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Former Marriott International Lodging Division President and Managing Director Ed Fuller says limousine operations need to prepare for the coming influx of international visitors, especially from China, who will not want to rent cars and are ripe for becoming chauffeured service clients. (All photos courtesy of www.edwinfuller.com)
IRVINE, Calif. — The career and expertise of Edwin D. “Ed” Fuller bring together many of the knowledge bases and trends transforming chauffeured transportation worldwide. As a keynote speaker at this year’s International LCT Show, the former Marriott International hotelier-turned-consultant and prolific global user of chauffeured transportation will discuss how operators can apply leadership and business relationship skills to become more competitive.
While working at Marriott International, Fuller’s leadership resulted in more than 80,000 new jobs worldwide, 555 hotels opening in 72 countries, $8 billion in annual sales, and the launches of multiple environmental, youth and educational efforts. Staying competitive is an over-arching theme of this year’s Show as Transportation Network Companies and the technology spurring them challenge limousine operations as never before. Fuller, the founder and president of Laguna Strategic Advisors, spoke at length with LCT a few weeks before the Show about how the hotel, business travel, and chauffeured transportation industries intersect in an ever more global economy that must embrace new technologies. As Fuller makes clear, there is much that operators can learn.
LCT: What has been your involvement with chauffeured transportation throughout your career, as a client and a hotel executive?
Fuller: Overseas, we use limousines more for our clients and ourselves. The laws are different in foreign countries. People are not as comfortable driving in emerging markets. Hotels tend to have their own fleets, such as in Hong Kong, Dubai and India. It’s something we seldom see in the U.S. I’ve also gotten used to chauffeured service living in Laguna Hills. Getting to LAX in the diamond lane is the only way to be sure to make your flight. I also almost fell asleep once driving my car back from Los Angeles at night. I found out a chauffeured car is a better value in the long run. If I’m not on an expense account, I still use it on my own. I’m not a huge fan of taxi systems in our cities because of communication problems with the drivers, and drivers taking longer routes. I used Uber only once and that was the last time. It was not a good experience.
LCT: What have been some of your best experiences with chauffeured transportation?
Fuller: The best have been in Asia and the Middle East, with the good quality of cars and staff. Hotels set up their headquarter bases for chauffeur service and there are few problems.
LCT: What have been experiences you’ve had that limousine operators could learn from?
Fuller: When a major brand sub-contracts to an affiliate, there is occasionally a miscommunication. That has been my only complaint. I have never had a problem with a limo company that makes the drive from point A to B. They know where they are going. GPS has eliminated most problems or difficulties. The service I use locally I’ve been riding with to LAX for 15 years. I know the chauffeurs and they know me, my wife and my dogs. The personal attention and level of service is good. I use larger companies outside of my local area.
LCT: What are the most important service requirements for limo operators to understand when working with hotels?
Fuller: If they are luxury tier hotels, the chauffeurs have to appear at a luxury level and with luxury vehicles. The last thing you want showing up in front of the Ritz-Carlton is a Toyota Prius. The hotel and transportation brands must match. That’s automatically done in Asia. If you are dealing with a hotel, the quickest way to lose a contract is to fail to meet the customer on time. If my limo is not there, panic sets in, especially if it’s taking me to a meeting or flight. Most important are on-time delivery, safety, quality and condition of vehicle, and the driver’s skills and communications.
LCT: How do your principles of overcoming differences in multi-cultural business environments apply to chauffeured transportation operations?
Fuller: First, you must understand the culture of who you are serving. You have to understand what the culture expects and what service should be, and whether or not you are dealing with a concierge environment. My business outside of the U.S. culture was everything. Building confidence and trust is hard in some of these markets. There has to be a developed understanding of the market, the culture, and the challenges. Clients often choose limousine transportation because they are coming into environments that make them uncomfortable. If you have Chinese coming in, for example, you must be sensitive to their cultural norms and ways. The number of international visitors to the U.S. is growing by leaps and bounds. We had 1.5 million visitors from China in 2014, and 7.5 million visitors are expected in 2020 (Department of Commerce figures).