Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — If there were one slice of the transportation market that Uber can’t do, it would be client tours and special events. The potential for business is about as deep as the unique leisure, tourism, and life-event interests of a diverse client base.
In an LCT East panel session Nov. 7 titled “Special Event & Tour Marketing,” three medium-sized fleet operators with strong retail revenue streams told of their experiences and approaches to this growing market:
• Tammy Carlisle, co-owner of Action Worldwide Transportation in Atlanta, has succeeded in her wedding-related marketing and business. Todd Roberts, President of JACO Limousines & Transportation in Louisville, Ky, expanded his company’s reach into the local bourbon tourism market, which has become popular among tourists worldwide.
• Todd Roberts, President of JACO Limousines & Transportation in Louisville, Ky., figured out how to monetize and grow his bus business by putting together custom tours, focusing on the bourbon market.
• Douglas Rydbom, managing partner of Premiere #1 Limousine Service of Middletown, Penn., looked around for opportunities and saw a need for event marketing. He now has an event marketing business.
For Carlisle’s Action, most of its wedding success has come from its online business and word of mouth. She also goes to wedding-related venues and asks planners to use her company.
“So every weekend, especially from August through about October and part of November, we’re sold out,” she said. “We have six, seven, eight-hour weddings. We’re doing combination packages for them, so when they call to talk about their wedding, we immediately start asking them, ‘What are you doing for your bachelorette?’ And so I always suggest winery tours for their bachelorette parties. So here I am packaging another whole day of charter business for her to go and enjoy her girlfriends and not do the typical bar thing. It’s been extremely successful by cross selling them.” Carlisle emphasized much of the inquiring public doesn’t know about the many options they can afford. You first have to get them to look past the luxury label.
She also advises the more alliances you can make with DMCs and travel agents, “the more business just falls into your lap.”
“I realized by partnering with them that a lot of people still use travel agents, and the [agents] put in their bookings online, and I pay them a 5% commission quarterly,” she said. “So my new travel agent booked $7,000 worth of business I didn’t have to touch directly into my portal. I ran his numbers and sent him a check for $300+.”
Roberts’ service area of Kentucky makes about 95% of the world’s bourbon at distilleries spread throughout the region. JACO tapped into the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau which gets about 50,000 calls or emails a month asking about the bourbon business, also known as “bourbonism.”
“We’ve seen an opportunity to not only provide the transportation, but help them with tickets and accommodations because most people that come in for this are not locals, so they’re not familiar with the area,” Roberts said.
Todd Roberts, President of JACO Limousines & Transportation in Louisville, Ky, expanded his company’s reach into the local bourbon tourism market, which has become popular among tourists worldwide.
As a result, JACO started another company called Kentucky Bourbon Tours (tourkentuckybourbon.com). The company dedicates two reservationist coordinators to put the packages together, arranging tickets, visits, and meals. It also provides pre-arranged public tours. Douglas Rydbom, managing partner of Premiere #1 Limousine Service of Middletown, Penn., looked around for opportunities and realized event marketing was a need and now has his own event marketing business.
“It keeps our vehicles busy,” Roberts said. “The company tourkentuckybourbon.com does not own any vehicles. We basically farm that over to the limousine side. So we work with each other, owned by the same people. We’ve got just two separate companies, and both are making money.”
Rydbom’s company designated a meeting planner, and featured its meeting component on its website under “The Special Tabs.” One reservation agent works eight hours a day from Tuesday through Saturday.
“We got into it to sell our limousines and get them on the road,” Rydbom said. “We wanted to fill those days where they sit like everybody else’s. Anybody can sell a limousine on Saturday, so we try to sell it on a Tuesday and see how fast it moves.”
The venture has turned into a type of destination management company (DMC). It provides the convenience of one-stop-shop service for a mark-up, Rydbom said. The meetings leads eventually connected the company to other opportunities.
“Then it just changed into something else,” Rydbom said. “It turned into the wine tours, and we did a lot of different things. What we really did was thrive off everybody around us.”
Another approach Rydbom uses is brainstorming with staff and knowing the area’s demographics when coming up with creative tour ideas. Often, paying clients are ages 23 to 40, so ask the younger members of your staff what they like to do for leisure.
The panelists divulged some of their more teachable experiences when learning their ways around the tour market.
Tammy Carlisle: “All of my packages are mostly day-based, even when I brought up bachelorette parties. I’m starting to steer them towards wine tours. We’ve quit sending our vehicles out to start a charter after 10 p.m. We have just decided those aren’t necessarily the clients we want to have in our cars. We want our well-kept luxury vehicles to stay that way, and the drunks falling down and throwing up, that’s just not our cup of tea. Will we still do a bachelorette party or bachelor party at night? Yes, but we want it to start at a decent hour, so we get to know that client before they’re totally loaded. So that’s a lesson we’ve learned the hard way, and it’s hard to turn money away.”
Douglas Rydbom, managing partner of Premiere #1 Limousine Service of Middletown, Penn., looked around for opportunities and realized event marketing was a need and now has his own event marketing business.
“Don’t get hung up on somebody that’s not your client. Everybody who calls is not your client. You can’t sell everybody, and you don’t just continually discount. You share what you have to offer, and if they say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t expect it to be that much,’ you thank them for calling, and you say, ‘If the situation changes, we would love to be your first choice. Please give us a call back.’”
Todd Roberts: “I would caution about weakening your brand, selling yourself too cheap. When I first got into the business, I thought those wheels had to be moving, that you could negotiate, and people would come. . . Then, we realized we’ve got the nicest vehicles in town, and we need to keep our prices consistent and steady and just hold our guns, and that’s basically what we’ve done.”
Doug Rydbom: “When we first started doing some of the big buses, we started selling seats on the buses. We would do wine tours, and you could get on one of our wine tours for $50 and go for a ride, but you’re riding with 50 other people you don’t know. We found out we’ve actually got away from selling the seats because sometimes as the day goes on and the wine starts to flow, you don’t love everyone on that bus anymore. So that would be one of the biggest things we used to have. They break into groups, and it just turns into a nightmare sometimes.”
Networking & Marketing Tips
Panelist shared the following quick tips and ideas that span pricing, networking, sales, marketing, and web content:
• Don’t mention pricing “minimums” when booking wedding runs or group tours, although you should keep a minimum in mind “behind the scenes.” Offer a package that includes everything and all amenities with no additional fees if the run is finished on time.
• With group tours, it’s best to state the amount per person, which sounds affordable and is more likely to get the caller to restate it to other group members.
• Reach out to the wedding venues and planners in your areas.
• When looking for business with networking groups, smaller, high-powered groups, such as ones consisting of power corporate executives, are more likely to land you leads. Those executives not only make spending decisions for their companies, but also are likely to spend on personal transportation and events, such as anniversaries, nights out, or a son or daughter’s wedding.
• Convention & Visitors Bureaus are a frequent source of leads. Get pamphlets and brochures to their visitor centers, where many prospective clients look for information.
• Just going out to the nicer restaurants and networking at the bar before sitting down for dinner can net a handful of customers or invitations to join organizations.
• Get out and sell at least eight to 10 hours per week with 20 hours as an ideal goal, and attend one or two social networking functions per week.
• Train your staff as informal “salespeople” and have them accompany clients to places that resonate with them. Knowing what customers like helps staff sell your service.
• Don’t say you are sold-out. Get the prospect’s name and phone number and find out if one of your affiliates can take that client. 20% is better than nothing and affiliates will love you.
• Build good back-end web pages, or unique landing pages, and place SEO friendly content there that drives people to the main website.
• Put your business on Yelp, and don’t be scared of it. If you get a bad review, address it nicely and let it roll off. The good reviews over time will outweigh the bad ones.
• Use actual photos of your vehicles, instead of stock photos. Invest in professional photography.
• Use bold, attractive graphics with landing pages for specific major events a few months ahead, such as NASCAR races, concerts, and sporting events.
Related Topics: building your clientele, charter and tour, charter and tour operators, group transportation, group travel, How To, industry education, LCT-NLA Show East, leisure travel, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, retail markets, revenue growth, tour buses, tourism
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