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CLEVELAND, Ohio — This coming election is bound to be one of the most interesting (and controversial) in recent history. Whether you plan to vote Trump, Clinton, or a third-party, there are still plenty of opportunities for each candidate to sway new voters to their side.
One of these opportunities, the Republican National Convention (RNC), will bring thousands of people together in Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena July 18-21.
Politics aside, this event also provides an opportunity for luxury ground transportation operators to see red, white, and green. Members of the media, delegates, and corporate sponsors attending the event will need to move around on the ground, and for more than just a few hours at a time. Larry Chrystal, president of A1 Mr. Limo in Wickliffe, says, “In this five day period, a lot of the customers are looking for 12 to 24 hour a day service.” That being said, an incredible amount of planning is needed for companies to prepare their vehicles, chauffeurs, and clients.
Reaching Across The Aisle
While there are still quite a few weeks before the event, operators are doing everything they can to prepare, which, because of strict security measures, isn’t much.
“So much of the actual planning can’t happen until the secret service, the committee on arrangements, and Destination Cleveland [the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau] part out information,” says Steve Qua, president of Company Car and Limousine in Cleveland.
“They haven’t announced the actual perimeter, what it will take to get inside it, whether or not we can take people to a designated area, or what we do if we have credentials to get in. They’re giving the information out very last minute.” This is out of necessity for everyone’s safety, of course, but it certainly makes things more difficult.
Mary Jo and Tony Mazzarella, director of sales and general manager for American Limousine Service, are longtime members of Destination Cleveland, which gave them a bit of an upper hand. Early on in the process, when Cleveland was one of the cities being considered, they were contracted to handle the selection committee.
“We are fortunate we had that experience because it helped us get in the inner ring. It allowed us to forge relationships that will help us operate a lot more smoothly,” Mary Jo says. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they were given any extra information regarding specific logistics.
“I don’t think we’ll get a lot of the logistics until about 10 days prior to the convention, so it’s been really difficult to figure out how we’ll navigate the city,” Tony says. “We’ve obviously ramped up our reservations department and our chauffeur pool. We’ve been working on that for six months as far as staffing it appropriately.” He reached out to school bus drivers who are off in the summer, and has received a huge response over the last two weeks. “We are just trying to gather as much information as possible, which is not an easy thing to do with this event,” he adds.
Qua is also trying to ensure he has enough staff on hand: “Although we’d like to do more concrete planning, it’s had to be a bit more abstract due to lack of official information. We can do financial planning and logistics planning. We know we’re going to have to bring chauffeurs and vehicles to Cleveland, but when it comes down to who’s going to go where, it’s going to have to happen closer to the event.”
Chrystal, a medium sized fleet operator, sought out advice from an affiliate who handled the RNC convention in Tampa, Fla. in 2012. “The convention in Tampa was kind of all over the place. Cleveland is pretty well centralized. All the events going on are located downtown,” he says. “The challenge here as we go along is trying to anticipate how much we are actually going to do and then trying to staff for that.”
Smaller operators such as John Petrus, owner of Petrus Limousine in Brunswick, are more frustrated with the lack of communication and consideration. “We are getting no guidance at all. We’ve received one email and one phone call for the RNC. I know a lot of other small company owners, and they’ve not received many calls either,” he says. “I would have to assume the RNC planned for this a year ago, and they probably contacted a national company to book all of their vehicles. That’s probably why us little guys are not getting the call.”
As the RNC gets closer, all operators are planning to beef up their fleets with the help of affiliates or other branches in their companies. The most popular vehicle choices so far are sedans, SUVs, and vans.