World Tour: A stellar international panel of operators shared their insights on affiliate business at LCT-NLA East on Nov. 10. (L to R): Michael Olderburg, Chairman of the Board, United Limousines AG, Frankfurt, Germany; Aditya Loomba, CEO, ECO Limos, New Delhi, India; Guillaume Connan, managing director, Chabé Limousines, Paris, France; Nadeem Ajaib, President and CEO, Icona Global, London, U.K; Rob Stacy, principal, Global Ground Transport, Houston.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — An expert panel of international operators dispensed a wide range of advice and best practices to operators looking to increase their global affiliate business during a Nov. 10 session at LCT-NLA Show East.
Entitled, “What Your International Affiliates Want You to Know
,” the panelists touched on such topics as dealing with international time zones, ensuring professional levels of chauffeur services, reservation accuracy, price quotes based on currency exchange rates, cancellation policies, and understanding the different brands and class of vehicles limousine operators employ worldwide.
Moderated by Rob Stacy, principal, Houston-based Global Ground Transport, the panelists stressed that accurate communication and managing client expectations are the two major components to successful affiliate partnerships.
“Operators need to understand the consequences of not knowing the different global time zones when they are working with affiliates,” said Guillaume Connan, managing director of Chabé Limousines, Paris. “Nobody wants to be woken up in the middle of the night because a foreign operator did not know the time difference.” Stacy added that affiliate partners also should understand that it can take time to obtain a quick price quote because of time differences, major national events and holidays, or work-week schedules that differ from those in the U.S. For example, In Dubai, the work week is Sunday to Thursday.
“I think it’s important to select partners that work 24/7 and understand the cultural difference of countries,” said Nadeem Ajaib, President and CEO, Icona Global, London. “Communication with the client is key. We deal with a lot of high-end celebrities travelling from Los Angeles and if they decide to change the drop-off location and that’s not pre-approved, that can be a problem with billing. Or if they bring along a bike and a lot of luggage that requires a SUV instead of a sedan, we need to know that before the hand off.” The best way to avoid any issues about last minute changes for extended services, vehicle changes or multiple stops or a different drop-off location, is to get pre-authorization for any parameters ironed out in advance before the trip begins, Stacy added.
Providing chauffeurs who meet clients’ expectations also can be an issue depending on the country. “In Bangladesh, for example, chauffeurs do not speak English at all which can be a problem if the client wants information, and because of the tropical climate, chauffeurs may be dressed in just a cotton shirt and black pants,” said Aditya Loomba, CEO of ECO Limos in New Delhi, India. “If we know the client’s expectation up front, then we could add an English-speaking guide.” Communication also can be a problem in India because cell phone numbers are the same in India as in the U.S., he added. “If an operator or client is not using the proper country code, you won’t connect.”
When it comes to pricing, Michael Oldenburg, Chairman of United Limousines AG, Frankfurt, Germany, said that in Europe clients expect an exact quote for the trip. “For me, working with affiliate partners is all about trust and honesty. I don’t want to work with an operator who said he has this big fleet and then I find out he only has three cars. I demand honesty because we’ll find out eventually and won’t use them anymore.”
Added Loomba, “Quality and transparency are keys to a good relationship because the affiliate partner is an extension of my company or your company. Regarding billing, the standard practice is to base the final invoice on the local currency exchange rate, so U.S.-based operators should know the rate for the final invoice, Connan said.
The panel also noted that U.S. operators need to know the class of fleet vehicles operators use around the world so client expectations are met. “In London, the Mercedes E Class is the standard. If somebody requested a Lincoln Town Car — those don’t exist,” Ajaib said. He also noted that smaller SUVs are used rather than big American SUVs, so Americans who carry a lot of luggage can be an issue.
Some other tips the panel shared include not to overpromise service, especially when dealing with some cities that may lack the high service levels more developed countries offer. “It’s better to underpromise and overdeliver,” Loomba said. Further, affiliate operators must do their homework and know the various rules and regulations of international airports, especially where clients can be picked up.
“The key in dealing with international affiliate partners overall is to keep the communication information chain as short as possible so problems can be handled fast and any problem can be resolved quickly,” Stacy said.