Operations

Managing Big Groups Yourself

Denis Wilson
Posted on June 18, 2013

Destination management companies (DMCs) act as middlemen between meeting planners and the vendors needed for an event. They mark-up vendor services. The end client gets some extra value, but they get hit harder in the wallet. And operators get less shine for their time.

What if you could cut out the middleman and provide group destination management services yourself? Why let a DMC step between you and the client, on your own turf, no less?

Well, for one, because it’s easier said than done.

There seems to be a Catch 22 with meeting and convention work: It’s hard to take on group work if you don’t have the backend support for it and it doesn’t make sense to invest in backend support if you don’t do much group work. The administrative cost of managing the logistics and data of large fleet movements can be prohibitive.However, advancements in destination management and group travel management software are tipping the balance in favor of operators.

Group travel software enables operators to take on more of the functions required to plan conventions and meetings. That improves logistics, saves time, and diminishes errors. The result is less overhead, less cost to the client, and larger profit margins. Tasks such as calculating cost and type of chauffeured service, assigning vehicles, coordinating arrivals and departures can be automated, while tools for project budgeting can help operators keep an eye on the bottom line or quickly offer clients quotes.  

Orlando operator Sami Elotmani of Destination MCO said PowWow Smart is a useful efficiency tool because it minimizes client acquisition costs by shortening its RFP customization and response time.
Orlando operator Sami Elotmani of Destination MCO said PowWow Smart is a useful efficiency tool because it minimizes client acquisition costs by shortening its RFP customization and response time.

Fixing the Manifest Mess

Manually inputting manifest data into a spreadsheet or other static program is an especially time consuming and

mistake-laden aspect of group travel. Say you have a group of 250 that needs to be transported from airport to hotel and back. With an Excel document containing 12 columns of data, you’ve got 3,000 cells of data. That adds up to costly man-hours and a sizeable risk for fumbling a reservation.

Ground transportation software PowWow Smart automates the input of manifests and grouping of travelers into vehicles. PowWow Smart lets users upload a group manifest directly to the system, which eliminates manual data entry errors. After validating all the information, the software automatically groups passengers into the most economic and efficient combination of vehicles according to parameters set by the user, which can be tailored to help users fit within a budget or make special arrangements for VIP travelers.

Pow Wow Smart's Evan Michaels (M) stands with Edward Brodeur (L) and Jeremy Katoff of Deem Ground (formerly Global Ground Automation)
Pow Wow Smart's Evan Michaels (M) stands with Edward Brodeur (L) and Jeremy Katoff of Deem Ground (formerly Global Ground Automation)

PowWow Smart allows the ground provider to do what the DMCs are doing, and capture more meetings business with higher margins. “People are not in the group business because they don’t have the backend system and operational support to do that,” said Evan Michaels, CEO of PowWowSmart. “What we’re doing is taking60% to 80% of the time away so anyone can be in the group business.”

Sami Elotmani, director of operations and affiliate relations, for Destination MCO and Worldwide Chauffeured Services has been using PowWow Smart for about four years and has found it useful. “It works as an efficiency tool because it minimizes our client acquisition costs by shortening our RFP customization and response time. It helps our meetings and events department present a compelling value proposition to our clients by offering manifest optimization as a convenient but free tool to meeting planners and DMCs.”

A Cloudy Future

Any group gathering is a work in progress. Changes are always imminent. Fortunately, advancements in cloud-based computing allow for live updating of group movements on the fly from a tablet, phone or desktop. The latest version of the destin software, created by Wayne Beaubien, a software entrepreneur, former limousine operator and former destination events manager, has harnessed the power of the cloud.

Software entrepreneur and former operator Wayne Beaubien puts DMC tools in operators’ hands.
Software entrepreneur and former operator Wayne Beaubien puts DMC tools in operators’ hands.

The software offered by Beaubien’s company, e-destinAccess, Inc., is intended to be an end-to-end destination management software, from processing arrivals and departures automatically, to placing passengers in the vehicles based on fleet specs, to managing any assignment a tour or event may call for.

“It’s a tool that would allow any transportation company to handle their own clients for the group business versus using a DMC,” Beaubien said. “Let’s say it’s a circle line around Manhattan: You need a bus to get there, you need to buy tickets, you need guides, you want boxed lunches, you want cigars for all the guys. Whatever it is that that tour is comprised of, all those suppliers and supplies are in that particular event. If they want to add something else, just add it.”

Because the system is now an Internet-based service, rather than bound to a desktop, it can be accessed from anywhere as well as by anyone given access to the URL. Individual updates can be made quicker and easier through a single point of entry. Clients can be given a unique URL to their job. Through an online portal, they can update arrivals and departures, program itineraries and cost sheets.

“If a transportation company has a tool like this they could say, ‘You know what planner? Let me do everything for you,’” Beaubien said. “I’ve got this cool tool, let me send you a link and show you what it’s like and what your guests can experience with us. They go “Whoah!” I mean, they are shocked.”

Integrated and Connected

If all goes to plan, a new partnership between PowWow Smart and Deem Ground will make group travel an even more automated and operator friendly endeavor — and in the process, push more work through the pipeline toward regional operators.

Deem Ground is an online ground-transportation marketplace that connects corporate buyers and travel agencies with car service providers, in addition to powering the back-office operations for 40% of the U.S. enterprise car service market. (Deem Ground makes Voyageur Reserve, which is the next generation of widely used Odyssey software). Meanwhile Deem Ground’s Affiliate-Connect service allows transportation companies to manage their affiliate reservations.

Amy Harris, senior vice president and general manager of Deem Ground, which was formerly Global Ground Automation.
Amy Harris, senior vice president and general manager of Deem Ground, which was formerly Global Ground Automation.

The Deem Ground and PowWow Smart partnership will connect PowWow Smart users to Deem’s large affiliate network system and travel planners while also easing integration into back-office platforms. Together, it becomes a tool not only to manage group travel more efficiently, but a channel from which group work will come.

“We’re bridging the gap and allowing regional providers and smaller providers that were not really able to play in the meetings space and empowering them via the connectivity of Deem Ground,” Michaels said. Operators will be able to seamlessly receive reservations already scrubbed, flights checked, and the groupings completed.

Amy Harris, senior vice president and general manager of Deem Ground, is eager to see how Deem Ground can serve corporate customers, travel DMCs, and ground providers. “The group ground industry is severely underserved in terms of automation,” Harris said. “There is no other solution out there that has the capability of creating the efficiencies and automating the process.”

“It truly is an end-to-end solution,” she said. “You’ve got the PowWow Smart front-end with the secret sauce and all the algorithms that basically are taking that excel spreadsheet in any format and grouping the reservations based on the manifest, based on what flights people are coming in on, what times they’re coming in, and the different terminals and airlines. It’s grouping all that information, it’s spitting out the cost of it, it’s confirming it, and then it’s passing all that information to the Deem Ground system. Then the merchants can see the different groups, the different attendees, specific requests, such as this customer needs bottled water. They have all that detail in the reservation.”

Harris believes that the chauffeured transportation industry is especially hot for this kind of technology. “I think this industry might have been a little bit behind, but it’s catching up quickly. We feel that the end-to-end package is going to be really groundbreaking.” 

Related Topics: group travel, software, technology

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