Expert panel (L to R): Apurva Patel of GroundWidgets, Amy Harris of DeemGround, Sara Eastwood-McLean of LCT Magazine, and Chris McCrae of RideCharge/Taxi and Sedan Magic.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Operators packed into the ballroom during the final day of LCT Show East, ready to hear the latest insights from an expert panel on how mobile technology is bringing changes to limo operators and their clients.
The panel included Amy Harris of Deem Ground, Apurva Patel of GroundWidgets, Chris McCrae of Sedan Magic, and LCT publisher Sara Eastwood-McLean.
Ever present on the minds of operators, Uber was a prime topic. The session kicked off with a video featuring exactly how Uber works. The video demonstrated how an order is placed using the interactive map feature with simple touches, and how within minutes a chauffeured vehicle arrives at your destination.
Use of mobile applications for transportation is already in full swing and growing by the day. More than 3,000 apps are available for on-demand car service all over the world, and mobile apps are beginning to target more specific consumer segments.
There are 91.4 million smartphone users in the U.S. alone, and 80% of the world’s population now owns a mobile phone. With the rise of Uber, consumers can get transportation at a moment’s notice, wherever they are.
Termed “disruptive technology,” Harris opened with some research from a survey of corporate travel managers from Fortune 500 companies to see how on-demand apps affect their buying habits. As the industry transitions to the new technologies, she brought out new insights.
On-Demand Well On Its Way
“The research indicates that corporate travel managers are very interested in mobile apps for a variety of reasons that are no different than they are for everyday users, because mobile apps are easy to use,” Harris said. She noted that travel managers are excited about using apps for ground transportation because with almost everyone having a smartphone, no new equipment will be needed for start-up.
As of now, survey responses show that travel managers believe the current method of booking for ground transportation is adequate, but that the needs will change. “If an executive has a very important flight or meeting, they are far less likely to book using a mobile app because of the dependability risk,” she said. They’ll use an established ground transportation provider with an advanced reservation to make sure everything goes smoothly.
But times are changing fast. As members of the Millennial/ Y generation move up into the ranks of middle management, the overall buying behavior will shift towards more mobile use. “They want on-demand functionality,” said Sara of the new generation, and the numbers from the survey show that corporate travelers will become more inclined to use mobile on-demand technology to book ground transportation in the near future.
According to the research, when travel managers were asked how important on-demand booking is for both “today” and “in one year,” their responses show that although they might not necessarily need the on-demand service now, they are looking down the line and thinking about how it could increase efficiencies.
Apps Vs. Operations
Apurva Patel of GroundWidgets noted that with mobile apps, the main priority of the business traveler is safety and reliability. He advised that it is crucial for operators to begin investing in mobile technology just like they do with vehicles and chauffeurs.
“Mobile apps today are similar to websites in the 90s,” he said. “It is an extension of your company brand and enhances the customer experience.” Operators can retain customers more easily and increase their loyalty by having an app that allows for mobile booking, and if possible, on-demand service.
As Harris stated, from the corporate perspective the value of an operation is in its accountability and reporting, which just isn’t as thorough among mobile on-demand providers. The reasons travel managers gave for wanting to offer mobile on-demand options include: the ability of employees to benefit from faster service and last minute bookings (67%), and the ability of customers to get instant confirmations on rides that are en-route (50%).
Chris McRae, the senior director at RideCharge/Taxi and Sedan Magic, said that users prefer a transportation app that meets all of their needs, and they don’t want to use different apps for different providers.
Looking To The Future
The apps for limo operators must meet the corporate requirements of travel managers and business travelers for reporting and accountability, McCrae suggests. And they should support on-demand bookings and provide estimated fares before purchase. Showing vehicles on the map so that clients can track their rides is also a key feature to have.
Sedan Magic has made strides recently with its on-demand service, and McCrae had some advice for how the industry could move forward into this new world of business. Using the affiliate business model as an example of the type of cooperation and cohesion the industry is capable of, McCrae said one of the best things operators can do is include features in their mobile applications that allow multiple preferred vendors to be displayed via a single app, similar to the corporate desktop app experience. He also advises that limo operators seek out technology partners who understand the unique needs of the ground transportation business to help them make the right choices regarding mobile app development.
After a spirited Q&A session with audience members discussing back and forth how the industry could move forward, Harris noted that in the survey 58% of respondents believe that an industry wide solution is required to help keep Uber and similar apps from taking over corporate travel.
The industry discussion will continue at the International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Feb. 16-18. Be sure to check out the seminar schedule and enroll in the next session on mobile technology at www.lctshow.com.