eNews Exclusive: Bart van Leijden emphasizes quality and reliability over all else.
HONOLULU, Hawaii — Owner-operator Bucky Yee has what you could call the preferred path to paradise.
His company, Elite Limousine Service of Honolulu, gets upfront access at the island chain’s largest airport while serving as an exclusive luxury limousine provider for the five Sheraton hotels on Waikiki Beach, the state’s most popular vacation destination. Elite also gets a steady share of business from other prominent hotels on Waikiki, making it a universally recognized service along the famed oceanfront beach that draws leisure tourists, convention goers, and business travelers worldwide.
Yee, 75, runs the largest limousine fleet on Oahu, with 25 vehicles, and has the oldest limousine service under continuous ownership. He started chauffeuring in 1978 and incorporated in 1981 with two vehicles.
“I have been in business so long people know us and our limo service,” Yee says. “We have no problems parking. The doormen and valets all know me.”
Before most clients can even set foot into paradise, they must navigate the Honolulu International Airport, where the baggage claim is far enough from the arrival gates to warrant a special bus service, known as Wiki Wiki shuttles. (In the Hawaiian language, Wiki means quick). Elite Limousine, however, gets access to the curbside where disembarking passengers step aboard the shuttles, which means Elite chauffeurs can walk their clients from the gates to the chauffeured vehicles parked along the Wiki Wiki curb.
From there, the chauffeurs drive the clients to the baggage claim area, help them retrieve their luggage, and then it’s off to any of the many hotels where Elite is a repeat and recognized luxury service brand. “We know every place. You don’t even have to give us the address,” Yee says.
Another service distinction for Elite is that its chauffeurs all have been vetted through FBI background checks. That helps them move about the airport with ease, including access for picking up clients on the tarmac. Most of Yee’s chauffeurs have been with the company an average of 20 to 25 years, and the newest ones an average of five years. “They’re all local boys who know the island,” says Yee, adding that the chauffeurs all speak Hawaiian, know the history of the island, and take tourism classes as part of their customer service training.
Such expertise pays off in making Elite the go-to vehicle service for many celebrities, VIPs, and government officials who visit the island. The company often handles the executives traveling as part of a convention or meeting. Yee also helps charter bus companies coordinate the logistics of fleet movements for large groups and provides supplementary chauffeured vehicles when needed.
Elite Limousine relies mostly on a more traditional fleet mix, suitable to a stable, leisure-oriented environment for both business travelers and leisure tourists: Stretch limousines, Lincoln Town Car sedans and Lincoln Navigators.
Yee’s experience and seasoned approach to service makes him appear as if he’s been working in the limousine industry his entire career. But his previous job as a firefighter and fire captain played a major role in developing his reputation.
He attributes much of his success to the relationships he developed over the many years serving in the Honolulu Fire Department, and the rigorous training that requires honesty and integrity. Yee started his limousine service as a side business while still serving full time as a firefighter.
“The integrity of being a fireman goes a long way,” he says. “People know where I came from, so the respect is there. They will listen to me. Everyone knows who I am and they will open the door.”
But there is yet a bigger source of Yee’s success, a principle so simple but often forgotten in a competitive business world. It’s what Hawaiians commonly refer to as the Aloha Spirit, which Yee defines as the “coordination of mind and heart within each person.”
“These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people,” he says. “It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii.”
That spirit enables Yee as a businessman to give freely in service, and not expect anything in return. “It’s not about luck — it’s you. I cannot advise on honesty and integrity. That’s something you have.”
His reputation has paid off in extensive affiliate relationships throughout the U.S. limousine industry. That was underscored again in May when ExecuCar, a major chauffeured transportation operation based in Phoenix, expanded its limousine service to 57 airports in the U.S. and Mexico through local affiliates, including Elite Limousine for its clients traveling through the Honolulu International Airport.
Many such prominent continental operators, who have been in the chauffeured transportation industry as long as Yee, have come to rely on him to take their farm-outs to Oahu.
“I have known and done business with Bucky for years,” says Chris Hundley, owner of Los Angeles-based Limousine Connection, who, like Yee, has worked in the industry since 1978. “He is a Limo Legend in Hawaii. I visited with him, had lunch, did a site inspection of his operation. They have always have done a great job for us and Bucky is still involved day to day. I have seen other companies come and go there but Bucky still makes it happen.”
A long time golfing friend of Yee, Neil Goodman, owner of Miami-based Aventura Worldwide, says he can always count on him. “I can tell you that every time I needed a favor of any sort for a client in Honolulu, he has always helped in any way I asked of him,” Goodman says.
Another industry heavyweight, longtime Chicago operator George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine, trusts Yee with his most important clients.
“Bucky is so dedicated and has given great service forever,” Jacobs says. “His vehicles and chauffeurs actually have clearance to drive on the tarmac to the gate, pick up there, and drive the passengers around to baggage claim. In this day and age, that is miraculous. I would trust my most important clients with Bucky. He knows everyone and can arrange restaurants and golf as well as transportation. He gives our industry a good name. I am proud to know Bucky.”
Elite Limousine Service Inc.
eNews Exclusive: Bart van Leijden emphasizes quality and reliability over all else.
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