Sandy Miller sees a future in providing a level of chauffeured service that TNCs cannot.
Five-star hotels are major consumers of chauffeured transportation. Guests at these properties expect stellar service and they pay top dollar to receive it. How can you tap into this business?
At the International LCT Show in Las Vegas in February, two industry veterans explained how they got past the doorman with these properties. Jeff Greene of Greene Classic Limousines Worldwide Transportation of Atlanta and Kurt Siejkowski of Wilshire Limousine Services of Los Angeles each have a full book of hotel accounts — and each one more impressive than the next.
Greene Worldwide serves the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta and Buckhead, Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, W Atlanta Hotel, W Buckhead Hotel, W Downtown Hotel, Grand Hyatt Atlanta, Westin Atlanta, and the Marriott Evergreen Resort. Wilshire Limousine serves hotel accounts including the Peninsula Beverly Hills, L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, The Beverly Hilton, The Ritz-Carlton at LA Live, Casa Del Mar, Shutters on the Beach, Lowes Santa Monica Beach Hotel, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows, The London West Hollywood, and the Mondrian.
“I have been doing hotel work since my inception,” Greene said. “Hotels want dependability, reliability and uniformity.” Adds Siejkowski: “We have 12 exclusive contracts with five-star properties. We court these accounts. They are important to our portfolio.”
Getting In The Door
The operators suggest building relationships with the decision makers and those with influence. They look at hotel owners, general managers, hotel managers, sales teams, and the concierge. “In every hotel chain and property there is a hierarchy,” Greene said. “You need to understand the hierarchy and who the decision makers are.”
Siejkowski advises that operators should join the same professional organizations that hotel managers belong to. “Hotel general managers have their own trade organizations,” he said. “Find out where you can go to engage them. Look at hotel hosted events and functions, concierge association meetings, convention and visitors’ bureaus, local marketing committees and the Chamber of Commerce.”
Both agree that joining these organizations alone will not get you an in. “You need to actively participate in them. Don’t just be a member,” Siejkowski said. He suggests paying visits to the properties you target at down times. He believes the staff should be familiar with you and that you develop a trust with them. “Be prepared to go full throttle once you get there,” Greene added.
A prospective chauffeured service provider also should thoroughly understand the particular needs and demands of a hotel and its clientele. Greene suggests asking questions such as: “What are you looking for in a ground transportation provider?”
Getting Your House In Order
Make sure you’re ready if you get the opportunity to be considered for hotel contracts. Greene and Siejkowski said hotels look at many things about your business in making their decisions. They include:
A hotel contract may call for items that are unlike any other contract you may have in place. It is common to expect to pay commissions and revenue sharing, Greene says. “Most will ask for complimentary hours. Some will want house cars.” He believes that you have a minimal turnover in staff and that your organization mirrors their culture.
If you managed to get to the contract negotiation stage, Greene and Siejkowski give these tips to propose effective contracts:
Both suggest proposing “exclusive” contracts unless otherwise requested by a guest. Greene believes an attorney should profesionally prepare the contract. “Every hotel contract I make, I make money. We are not in business to give it away.
“One thing that really makes us stand out during our pitches is that we invite the hotel to come and speak to our chauffeurs and staff,” he said. “It shows that we really care about the account and their needs. We want to be an extension of the hotel and we want to form a long-term relationship by demonstrating our proficiency.”
Greene and Siejkowski believe it is critical you have professional collateral material to present. They believe the presentation material should reflect your level of service.
Many hotels will ask for house cars at contract time. “We try to discourage the car,” Greene said. “We always base it on volume.” Siejkowki bases it on tiers by the level of revenue. He also has the hotel share the costs.
Concierge and Commission
“Many concierges like to receive cash commissions,” Greene said. “Don’t make bad deals with the concierges. As a rule, we look at 10% for the hotel and 10% for the concierge. We also will raise our rates to cover that percentage. Our hotels have never had a problem with this.”
Managing The Account
Greene and Siejkowski believe that once you have won the contract, you need to work hard to keep it. They suggest setting the tone up front by facilitating meetings with all departments at the launch of the partnership. “Involve the general manager, managing director and hotel manager in those meetings when possible to ensure accountability of the agreement by hotel team members,” Siejkowki said. “Hold monthly meetings with the general manager, managing director, and hotel manager to review results and discuss opportunities.”
They also say you should attend sales and events team meetings to gain information about upcoming groups or events and key contacts.
Keep High Quality
“There is nothing worse than when a client pulls up to the Four Seasons reading a Ritz-Carlton magazine in the back of your vehicle,” Siejkowski said. “Pay attention to the details and make sure your staff does too.”
Clients need their bills when they check out. They will not wait until you get to it. “One of the top three reasons to do work with my company for a hotel is that we get the room charge immediately when the trip is done. There is no time lag for billing,” Siejkowski said.
Greene uses three-part invoices. His chauffeur leaves one with the front desk after each ride. “The hotel’s best interest is served when we work together as a team,” he said. “We work differently with each different property. Some want us to collect credit cards from the clients and others want it on the hotel bill. Billing can be important as their clients like the convenience of having the car service on the hotel bill.”
Operators should be upfront with hotel property management about on occasion using a local affiliate. Such regular communication ensures there will be no surprises.
Greene has the staff from the Ritz Carlton speak and assist in training his chauffeur and office staff. “The Ritz Carlton’s motto is ‘Ladies and Gentleman serving Ladies and Gentlemen.’ They talk to the staff about client expectations. This allows us to truly become their partners.”
Greene suggests going even further. “Participate in family trips for staff. When you can, give them a ride or a discount. If someone on staff is having a baby, offer to pick them up in a limo and take them home from the hospital. Forge a relationship with the hotel staff because they often move on to other properties and that could be an opportunity for you in the future. If the hotel is having an event, participate and show support. You may also gain access to other potential revenue streams through doing this.”
Both caution that hotels like any other business have turnover. “Be prepared for changing of the guard. Keep close to your account and know what is going on,” Greene said.
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