Tim Rose brings his expertise to next year’s highly anticipated event.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The way to gain new business as outlined by keynoter Edwin Fuller relates to an old rule of serving clients: “If you take care of your associates, then associates will take care of customers, and customers will come back again.”
Fuller, President of Laguna Strategic Advisors, a global business consulting firm, and former President and Managing Director of Marriott International, offered multiple strategies and reasons for operators to remain optimistic, despite the competitive influx of transportation network companies (TNCs).
In his March 18 keynote presentation at the Show, he explained how operators who emphasize a clear company culture and values will more likely appeal to a growing international clientele headed to the U.S.
Global Growth Ahead
Business travel has returned to the levels of 2006-2007, said Fuller, who worked for Marriott International for 42 years, with 22 years in international markets. “Global tourism is really on a growth pattern and will continue in the coming year.” He cited numbers showing that world tourism creates 274 million jobs and $7.3 trillion in economic output, or 10% of the world’s economy.
The number one destination for international travelers is the U.S., then the United Kingdom, Thailand, Italy, China and Germany. Domestic travel destinations ranked in order of California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
Much of the demand and focus on international tourism is driven by China. In Orange County, Calif., for example, where Fuller lives and works, Chinese visitors are projected to be the leading source of tourism spending. About 100 million Chinese citizens will travel outside mainland China this year, and 200 million by 2020. The number visiting the U.S. annually is expected to climb from 1.5 million to 7.5 million during the next five years.
“They have a voracious hunger for many things, and a large contingent is interested in luxury travel,” Fuller said. “They enjoy retailing experiences. We know today they get better deals buying goods here despite the stronger dollar.”
To underscore the point, Fuller said, “The Chinese do not feel comfortable driving in the U.S. They are potential customers, and many don’t know how to dial up Uber.”
Fuller summed up the chauffeured transportation industry’s potential by praising the local limousine provider he uses weekly. The small operation is not the cheapest, nor the one with the fanciest vehicles. But the friendships and service attention he gets from favored chauffeurs are priceless.
As in the hotel business and other service industries, little details matter to clients, said Fuller, referring to the on-time standards, bottled waters and backseat mints as chauffeured examples.
“I get humor, a good story, and I can depend on them,” Fuller said. “If I need to sleep, I never hear a sound. I buy personalities. . . I know that when I get a car it’s clean, on time and I have a trust relationship with the person in that car.”
For out of town chauffeured service, Fuller relies on major affiliate networks that have strongly branded reputations, although he doesn’t know who is wearing the suit behind the wheel.
Fuller likened good branding to what he’s observed for decades in the hotel industry. “When you go to a Marriott hotel, you can depend on that hotel. Yes, we all make mistakes, but the fact of the matter is, Marriott gives you a more consistent experience.” Hotel chains succeed based on the consistency of their reservation and referral system and quality controls.
While working at Marriott International, Fuller’s leadership resulted in more than 80,000 new jobs worldwide, 555 hotels opening in 72 countries, and $8 billion in annual sales. He documented many of his lessons learned over the years in his book, “You Can’t Lead With Your Feet On The Desk.”
“Once people saw brand hotels, they became familiar with brands in other locations, and demand went up,” Fuller said. “People tend to go with what they know.
“We have to convince customers we have what they want,” he added. “If you are a small operator, and you are not branded, and you want to get business from other parts of the country or the world, then be part of a system that gives you access.”
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To get that international business through superior service and branded connections, a limousine company must possess a culture with values that motivates employees who then serve customers with care and loyalty, Fuller explained.
“I came from a company that believes in culture,” he said. “Values and culture were the most significant things in the eyes of Marriott. It is what separates Marriott from the rest.”
Fuller said his executive bonuses were tied to the results of employee opinion surveys about the company’s culture. Details mattered. Incidents of a cold bowl of clam chowder or an undercooked hamburger, for example, were treated like serious matters and ways to learn the lesson of consistent high standards.
“When Bill Marriott got up on stage and spoke to us, he got the details right,” Fuller said. “He always focused on customer satisfaction. He was interested in profit, but didn’t lay that on us. Bill Marriott reinforced the principle of taking care of the customer, of ladies and gentlemen taking care of ladies and gentlemen.”
Employees, such as chauffeurs, are always under scrutiny for the experiences they create and bring. In that situation, tone and attitude are important, he said.
“You may say you don’t have time to worry about culture and values,” Fuller said. “If you don’t know what it is, you still have it but are not in control of it. What you do is what sets your culture. If you can’t say it, then your associates are doing it for you. They are making their own decisions about what your values are. That car and [chauffeur] represent you, and if you have not established a rapport with them about what your values and culture are, you can see those things go awry.”
Service companies need to invest time in introducing employees to values, standards, and expectations. “If you are small, you probably have not taken the time to do it,” Fuller said. “You do it through actions.”
Fuller urged operators to ensure clients in the backseat sense the company’s values, especially safety and confidentiality. “When you have good people, you want to take good care of them. You create a work environment where they feel safe. Those values come in to play. There are no secrets in a hotel. We know everything. We know what you did last night. I can tell you what Bill Clinton watched when he was in a Moscow hotel. Your drivers have many reasons to write a book because they meet all sorts of people in all kinds of environments. Don’t write the book. Your customers need to be safe when they let down their guard.”
Serving In All Circumstances
Fuller drew upon his experience establishing hotels worldwide, which required him to understand and adapt to the unique ethnic cultures in the areas where hotels were being built.
“It’s important for your employees to know what you are doing is important to them. Reassure them. Sit down with the management team and talk to them. Greet employees. Tell them, ‘This is our limo company, these are our customers. We want to take care of them beyond anything else.”
Fuller recounted an example from the Cairo Marriott during the 2011 Egyptian revolution that resulted in chaos in the streets. At one point, as mobs threatened to storm the hotel, the employees, from housekeepers to chefs and waiters, all lined up at the gates, some holding cooking utensils. The employees were motivated to risk their own safety to protect the customers in the hotel. They stood at the gates for four hours until the mob stood down.
“You want people to believe in who you are and what you represent, and if you develop that belief, it will pay off in dividends,” Fuller said. “It pays off with the most important word, which is attitude. The attitude of an associate affects me as your customer. Attitude will make every difference in your business. You want a brand relationship that will bring you new customers who will become your valued customers. You should have a culture and value system in your company that is strong and can be demonstrated in working with your associates. I guarantee you that customers will come back to you again and again, and they will be happier for it.”
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