OKLAHOMA CITY — When top officials with the National Basketball Association arrived at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in April to hear the pitch for relocating the SuperSonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City, their rides were black Mercedes.
Not one single limousine could be found.
"People don't want to flaunt what they're doing,” said John Williams, the Skirvin's general manager. "They really want to downplay the experience of going from the airport to the hotel to business appointments.”
Jimmy Paris, owner of Paris Limousine, says 2008 is the best year he's seen in 21 years of business.
But he too admits that unlike the last boom of the early 1980s, corporate customers are staying away from the big stretch limousines that were once seen as a symbol of corporate success.
"Say you have an executive looking at a site for a new plant — they don't want to seen in a limo — it's seen as gaudy, having a lot of cash,” Paris said. "They want to keep it low profile. When a limo drives up, everybody looks. But in a black car or SUV, it doesn't get that sort of notice.”
Fleet adding more under-the-radar cars
For that reason, Paris is increasing his fleet from 10 to 34 vehicles – but all of the new purchases are either black cars or SUVs.
Local executives confirm that image is what has relegated limo rides to special occasion use by tourists, wedding parties and prom dates.
As corporate spokesman at Devon Energy, Chip Minty has accompanied executives on numerous trips across the country.
"At Devon we tend to use less conspicuous transportation like SUVs or vans,” Minty said. "We don't see the limos as a necessary or good use of resources.”
When the trip does involve a larger group traveling together, the company usually employs either an SUV or a van, Minty said.
"Generally we don't use limos that involve a lot of luxury,” Minty said. "That's just not within our value structure.”
‘They're just having fun'
Paris isn't dumping his existing fleet of limos. And Williams still sees stretch limos outside his hotel doors on weekends – when excursion travelers want to splurge on a fun ride through downtown and Bricktown.
"For these folks, they're just having fun,” Williams said. "They want to make a show out of it.”
Paris said the prevalence of a chauffeured stretch limousine is no longer an indicator of a booming economy. Instead, he says, just keep an eye on the black cars and SUVs.
"We're seeing the biggest expansion of the hotel market I've ever seen in Oklahoma City,” Paris said. "We're no longer a motel city — we are a hotel city. And for us, the hotels are where you get your leading clients. This has been a spectacular year.”
Source: Steve Lackmeyer, The Oklahoman