Tim Rose brings his expertise to next year’s highly anticipated event.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Group runs are one of the most lucrative segments of business in the transportation industry. Executives come to your city for a sales meeting or board of directors meeting. They get picked up at the airport and taken to their hotels and a few days later you pick them all up and take them back.
Sounds easy? It’s not. Despite being a great financial coup, you’ll find such fleet movements are the hardest to do. But once you master the skills needed, you’ll find it to be a satisfying stream of repeat business for your company. So how do you learn the skills?
At the 2013 International LCT Show, Richard Kane, Presidential of International Limousine Service in Washington D.C, led a panel of experts on group transportation. The panel included Frank Macaluso, director of transportation for Allied PRA Las Vegas, and Sara Paige, director of operations for Allied PRA Las Vegas.
The panel suggested that you understand who the decision makers are for groups and how they rank in the hierarchy.
The top of the food chain consists of the following people:
• Front end users
• Incentive travel planners
• Corporate travel managers
• Party planners
They would contract a corporate meeting planner who may contact the transportation company directly or work through a destination management company (DMC). Paige equates a DMC to a concierge. “We are the local experts. Many people in our industry are former concierges. We interview and check out all of our vendors to ensure that the people we are sourcing for our clients will meet our high standards,” she said.
If the DMC is managing the transportation, the operator should not be dealing with the front-end user as it would be stepping on the toes of the DMC. Understanding the chain of command and who to take direction from is important in working with groups.
Communication Is Vital
Clear concise communications with the DMC is essential to smooth service, Macaluso said. If a driver is changed on a ride, it must be communicated to the DMC. Your company must be flexible as there are many last minute changes with groups.
“The most important thing a transportation company can do is be in communication with the DMC at all times so that we do not experience any surprises and we may be able to react to the problem in a more expedient way than you could,” Macaluso said. “The worst thing that can happen is I call the chauffeur and he tells me he is no longer on that ride. That is when I start to sweat wondering if the ride is covered. You never want to make your client sweat.”
What do DMCs look for when sourcing groups?
• Experience: If you have done groups before, it helps to get more groups
• Proper permitting and insurance
• Good, verifiable references
• Company background
• Clean, late model vehicles
Details, Details, Details
With groups, the demons are in the details. Manifests often have incorrect information in them that is given to the DMC by the travel manager or directly by the passenger. Often the front end time and flight number are given but not the connection. Passengers change flights at the last minute and people who are not on the manifest frequently show up. The DMC management will give you the guidelines on what you can and can’t do with a group.
For example, VIPs often are given their own transportation and cannot be grouped with other travelers. Sometimes travelers bring a spouse or family member with them. Knowing how to handle situations beforehand if they occur will make you succeed in handling groups and show that you know the right questions to ask.
Such information is critical to getting follow up work after your first group, Paige said. “We look at how you handled changes. Did you have a key contact person on your staff who was able to get things done? Were you clear upfront of the charge and did you let us know what overage charges were occurring so that we could stay on top of our budget? Closeouts are key as we need to get our bill to our client quickly so that we can get paid and in turn pay you.”
Ask yourself the following questions:
• Are your chauffeurs consistently, professionally uniformed?
• Are your chauffeurs properly licensed?
• Can you manage group signage?
• Can your chauffeurs handle changes?
• Do your chauffeurs communicate well with the client and with your dispatch?
• Are they courteous, customer service driven, and safety conscious?
Kane pointed out that there are companies that provide manifest software which helps streamline the scheduling process. Software will take the manifest, proof it for flight accuracy, perform groupings according to the parameters you put into it, and upload the ride to your own software system regardless of what software you are using in your dispatch.
Getting group business can catapult companies to the next level, but you must be honest with yourself. Know if your infrastructure can handle the multiple changes on the fly, succession of phone calls with chauffeur statuses, and the added stress to your existing business.
Limousine operators should consider joining these organizations to network for more group business:
• The Center of Association Leadership (ASAE); www.asaecenter.org
• Meeting Professionals International; www.mpiweb.org
• Your local Convention and Visitors Bureau
Tim Rose brings his expertise to next year’s highly anticipated event.
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