Taking Reservations Online

LCT Staff
Posted on October 1, 2001

Let’s face it, the Internet has changed the way in which people do business. Everything is done faster and information is disseminated at the click of a mouse. Now more than ever, business people can afford to be more mobile. Even in the wake of the “dot-com disaster,” the Internet has proven to be an essential part of the way business is conducted.

The luxury transportation industry has been, and continues to be, greatly impacted by the use of the Internet. Whether you’re a two-car operator in a small town or a 250-car operator in New York City, the Internet can help create more business and increase your bottom line.

“In the beginning a lot of people viewed the Internet as a new business model — a whole new way of doing business,” says Todd Holtmann, president of CorporateCarOnline. “However, it hasn’t quite evolved into being that. It is an additional tool for business to use to make more money.”

Operators are always looking for new business, and if they’re not, they should be. According to Holtman, the Internet provides an inexpensive tool for operators to do that by utilizing a company Web site.

“A Web site can cost a quarter of what it costs operators to run a Yellow Page ad and it can generate a lot more business,” he says.

A recent survey from Dun & Bradstreet showed that two thirds of all small businesses in the U.S. have Internet access and about half of those have a Web site. In addition, 60 percent of those with Internet access plan to increase their online use in the near future.

A recent estimate by the Nielsen/NetRatings of the number of people that are online worldwide was set at 407.1 million. The estimate for the U.S. was 164.4 million or 59.86 percent of the population.

With these kinds of numbers it is no wonder that corporations are embracing the Internet and technology. They see the efficiencies that can be gained by doing things online. And in a slower economy, time is money. Many corporations are reevaluating their travel expenses.

“The corporations are feeling the down turn, and the travelers are being told to cut costs and being asked to use the Internet rather than travel agents because it’s perceived to be less expensive,” says Dan Sharry, vice president of InterRide. “I’ve seen cases where corporations are mandating that in order to give a ground transportation service their business, they need to have an online booking system to streamline the process.”

So as the corporations are shrinking their budgets, they are looking for efficiencies. A ground transportation company may not be looking at technology as a way of becoming more efficient and putting more to the bottom line, but corporations are starting to demand it.

“I’m sure it’s happening already,” Holtmann says. “Some operators are losing corporate accounts to the more technologically-savvy that may have the online reservation systems that are able to cater to that company 24 hours a day.”

What Can Operators Do to Make More Money with the Internet?

Educate the client. According to Holtmann, the guys that are good and know how to market and sell it to corporate clients are doing the best.

He gives an example of the lunch-and-learn scenario. “Operators go to their corporate clients, bring in lunch, set a computer up and say, “Hey, here’s my new Web site and here’s how you can log in and place reservations 24 hours a day without having to pick up the phone,” Holtmann says. “Not only are those clients lessening their phone bills and sleeping later because their clients aren’t calling at all hours, but they are also seeing more runs because they’re losing to their competition because it’s so much easier to make a reservation with them.”

Is This All Really for Me?

When you’re considering investing in advancing the technology of your company, some questions that you should ask yourself are:

How much time am I spending on the phone taking reservations from a customer?

How much time am I taking to fax a confirmation back to a customer?

How much time am I spending dealing with a customer on changes/corrections to the reservation?

If the numbers are higher than you like, then it may be time to embrace technology.

“Operators have to do their own due diligence, but this allows for a more complete consideration for technology,” Sharry says. “A quick assessment by an operator might be, ‘Oh I can’t invest any more of my business,’ ‘I’m struggling,’ ‘I’m giving back cars,’ ‘my ride counts are down,’ etc. Part and parcel of that mindset is, ‘I can’t spend money on anything.’ But the corporations come back and say, ‘Do you have automation? We’re doing our own efficiency reviews and if you want my business, or if you want to keep my business you need this type of automation.’ How do you respond Mr. Ground Transportation Provider?”

Just for Adults?

Another market in this industry that is greatly influenced by the use of the Internet is the retail market, more specifically proms.

“You look at what age kids have been introduced to computers in the last the years,” Holtman says. “I’m 31 years old, and I didn’t see a computer until I was a junior in high school. Nowadays my 6- and 7-year-old nephews know more then I did in college. These high school kids are getting ready for their prom season or graduating, and they probably don’t even know what the Yellow Pages look like. When they want to find a limo they go straight to the Internet.”

What’s the Next Step?

The Internet and advanced online technologies are items that will continue to be ...

For more on this topic, and a complete listing of the many technological products and services that are available for you in this industry, please see the October issue of LCT magazine.

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