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Tristar Worldwide general manager Gary Au, a British educated native of Hong Kong, oversees a chauffeured operation with three company-owned vehicles, 40 affiliate vehicles, and 10 full-time Tristar employees.
HONG KONG — In a city of seven million inhabitants that could qualify as the most packed and stacked in the world, the metropolis knows how to move itself around with purpose. Hong Kong presents block after block of streaming people on their way to and from work, in and out of luxury retail stores with labeled bags, dipping along rows of side streets full of vendors and fruit stands — and those are just the people on foot.
On wheels come convoys of double-decker, 100-passenger-plus buses, double-decker street cars, and red-and-white Toyota taxicabs, all barreling and honking along every boulevard and avenue loaded with people — not to mention a state-of-the art, on-time subway system underneath it all with even more people on the go. So unlike New York City where Town Cars glide around every block, a black chauffeured car in Hong Kong rolls with distinction, since the abundant public transportation and city cabs overwhelm the vehicular population.
Hong Kong is so built up that skyscrapers are literally being built into mountainsides; its tropical, coastal terrain limits how much of its 426 square miles can be developed. The city teems with headquarters or Asian divisions of most major global banks, investment and private equity firms, and an array of electronics and technology companies, as the corporate logos (Samsung, Panasonic, etc.) flashed across the waterfront skyline along Victoria Harbor show. In such a concentrated vortex of vehicles and people swirling about 3,000 skyscrapers and tall buildings, one chauffeured transportation company manages to replicate the American and European style of luxury vehicle service.
Since opening its Hong Kong branch three years ago, London-based Tristar Worldwide Chauffeur Services has set up a chauffeured transportation division that seamlessly merges into the company’s global reach. With an estimated 40,000 runs per month in 80 nations, Tristar is the largest chauffeured transportation company based outside of the U.S., and the third-ranked company on the 2012 LCT 100 Largest Fleets List. It also received the prestigious Queen’s Award this year for its international business performance. The Hong Kong division has 10 employees who run a fleet of two company-owned S-Class Mercedes-Benz sedans, a company owned Mercedes-Benz Viano minivan, and about 40 S-Class sedan and minivan contract vehicles from local affiliates. Tristar handles bookings for other Asian destinations out of its Hong Kong offices.
Big business market
This citadel of capitalism, global finance, and unapologetic prosperity is prime territory for Tristar’s primary customer base: Airlines, banks, multinational corporations, private equity firms and global travel agencies. The company also transports members of royal families from the Middle East, VIPs/celebrities, and U.S. governors and political dignitaries. The more profitable as-directed runs outnumber airport transfers, with a few local leisure trips part of the overall mix.
Typical chauffeured vehicles are the ones found in Tristar’s fleet: S-Class Mercedes-Benz sedans, Mercedes-Benz Viano minivans, and Toyota Alphard MVP minivans, which can seat up to seven passengers. And don’t bother asking for a traditional stretch limousine. With heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic, often on narrow streets and clogged travel lanes, a stretch would be impractical. Stretches, however, are requested on the nearby region of Macau, the world’s largest gambling and casino mecca.
As a former British colony that became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China in 1997, Hong Kong follows the British-style traffic patterns, which are directionally the opposite of traffic flow in the U.S., Canada, and most of Europe. Helpful signs and arrows painted in the street near cross-walks indicate which way you should look for oncoming traffic, since the left-side-of-the-road traffic flows can be disorienting to many Westerners and Chinese Mainlanders.
Tristar’s Hong Kong general manager Gary Au faces a formidable set of challenges and obstacles that at least match, if not exceed, those of U.S. operators. One telling example: City rules allow idling for only three minutes, which makes it tough for suited chauffeurs waiting and trying to stay cool in the humid summers. Altogether, it is easier to run a chauffeured service in New York and San Francisco, despite the regulatory and traffic hassles. Au spoke with me at length in May during a visit to Tristar’s offices and on a chauffeured run through Hong Kong.