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There are many vehicle choices for operators looking to provide group transportation for the meetings and conventions industry, as vans, minibuses and motorcoaches come in many styles and sizes with various interior amenities. But vehicles are expensive. Operators should consider several factors before buying larger vehicles.
Before investing in a group travel vehicle, it’s important to know what size groups you plan to transport, says Steve Levin, president of Escondido, Calif.-based Sterling Rose Transportation, which serves the convention-heavy San Diego region. “Vans and minibuses are great for midsize groups, which have about 150 to 200 people,” he says. “But operators serving any group larger than that will need motorcoaches.”
Steve Levin: The nice thing about a 21-passenger mini is that it’s not a huge vehicle, but it can transport a sizeable amount of passengers.
Barry Gross, executive director for A Goff Limousine & Bus Company, based in Charlottesville, Va., says, “If you have an extremely large number of people, it is very helpful to have people-mover type buses, double-door transit styles, but that’s not something that will be useful for many companies.”
Choosing the right vehicle results from closely scouring the market for opportunities to introduce something new or unique in the region. This differentiates a company from its competitors and can fill a void in the market. Sterling Rose has an executive passenger van that seats nine passengers and the driver, and has room for luggage.
“There aren’t a lot of these vans down here and it’s a very functional vehicle,” Levin says. “It has high-back, forward-facing leather seats and is very comfortable. It gets on the corporate radar because it’s not flamboyant looking. We get a lot of airport group transfer and dinner travel requests for it when business travelers come to town for an event. It’s a Ford E-350 that was converted by Tuscany Automotive.”
Levin is looking to add a larger version of the executive passenger van to his fleet, considering “the Turtle Top Van Terra XL or any of the Sprinter conversions, something that seats around 12-14 passengers with luggage.”
A. Goff runs Turtle Top Van Terras for smaller group work, but is strongly considering the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter because of its gas mileage and capability, Gross says. However, he warns that “operators in some metropolitan areas may have trouble [with Sprinters] because of low hanging garages and street signs.”
For a versatile, practical vehicle, operators should consider the minibus, which can vary in capacity but generally covers a range of 15-33 passengers. Ronald Montross, president of Elite Limousine in Norwalk, Conn., says he’s seen a trend in corporate travelers requesting minibuses for corporate functions. “As companies cut back on travel expenses, we saw more companies combining their travelers to leave the office at the same time to get to airports and meetings,” he says.
Operators agree that minibuses are versatile vehicles that can be deployed in different ways for groups of all sizes.
“We always want a vehicle that’s multifunctional, and we’ve found that a sweet spot within shuttling groups is a vehicle that can handle 20-22 passengers with ‘real’ rear luggage,” says David Mole, president of Niagara Classic Transport in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, which deploys 28-passenger Krystal minibuses. “These vehicles can be used for getting airport pickups for conferences, dinner runs, specialty runs with wine tours. It can even be an on-site shuttle for a particular hotel.” Niagara Classic Transport has about 75 vehicles and plenty of experience with groups of all sizes as Toronto is the fourth largest conference city in the world.