It's up to travel management companies to evolve from traditional approaches to continue to provide the highest-quality experiences.
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — This year LCT added technology to its Summit title to reflect the biggest challenge that has confronted the industry in recent years.
While technology was the focus at the April 29-May 1 event, it still revolved around leadership. Like the menu of speakers and experts, many of the attendees are looking for ways to improve and streamline their operations with technology. It’s the one common element in their drive to enhance luxury service in a disrupted ground transportation sector.
LCT took the opportunity to expand on some of the many conversations about tech-related topics and industry trends during the three-day event. Below is a sampling of operators on how they are leading on technology.
“The great takeaway from the Summit is to make sure you contact clients in a way that works best for them,” he says. “It’s not just when booking. We let them know we are thinking about them. And if there’s anything we can do, we will do it.”
RMA runs chauffeured black vehicle and motorcoach fleets along with a taxi service, which involves a total of 200+ fleet vehicles. The company enjoyed 33% annual growth last year, compared to 2016, and sees about a third of its revenue now coming from motorcoach and minibus clients.
“When someone calls, their information pops up on the computer and what line, including a map of the state and a pinpoint of where they’re calling from,” Lindsey says. The system shows the internal phone tree so employees can accurately track call routes and times from start to finish. He’s also invested more in training and uses a 70-in. flat screen TV in the reservation area to provide an intuitive, graphical interface with all types of dashboard information, including who is on what call and what line, and even calls missed. “This makes us all a lot more efficient for not having to hunt around for a call that gets transferred around. It’s easier to find calls.” Staff members can also work seamlessly from remote locations and from Lindsey Limousine’s satellite building.
Lindsey also make use of charging carts for staff and chauffeur iPads, which log updates and charging status. That helps the company reallocate iPads as needed.
“Most bookings are still coming from the same traditional sources,” says Assolin, whose company has seen consistent double-digit year over year growth. “Everyone has a tablet, which makes everything run smoother and optimizes billing. Now we are able to track vehicles and drivers through the tablets. You have to have the big picture, not one cure all. You must have the whole package.”
The Santa Cruz system is built for a long lifespan, Assolin says. “We felt the move was right for us because we were getting so many people asking for mobile and more robust online options. Once it’s all turned on, we’ll have a system that is phenomenal.”
Clients control the revenue dollars that pay for your software, Assolin says. “You have to keep pace with the development of TNCs. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality we live in today. People want what they want and they want it now. If you can’t give it, they will look elsewhere.”
The service now routinely texts client passengers when they land and gives them the option of receiving care alerts. “When you make a reservation, you get 24- and 12-hour advance notices, and driver enroute statuses. Road show clients like to see where the boss is. Some clients prefer more care alerts, some less.”
Book.limo has helped many of his clients access his system directly for booking reservations and it has streamlined billing. The app is simple for customers to use.
Like many operators at the Summit, Barenholtz prefers a linked industry-wide network that enables various software systems to connect on affiliate-related bookings. “For us to choose a software upgrade, it will come down to when we find out which software talks to others,” he says. “Hopefully everybody is talking to everybody soon.”
“We don’t approach clients as a transportation company,” he says. “We approach them as a technology company. The money now is in events.”
KLS and Seamless work together to plan and coordinate turnkey fleet transportation and planning for meetings and convention groups of up to 700 people. Last year, the companies handled 160 events and are on track to work 180-200 events this year. One area providing a lot of growth is the video gaming industry, which holds meetings and tournaments at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Darbahani has found Livery Coach software to be compatible with his business model and needs. He can add more events features while customizing service menus and options for events clients. “We had one planner who booked 400 pick-ups and drop-offs and never once had to call our office,” Darbahani says. “She had complete information on a driver dashboard on one page on her tablet and laptop. She knew what jobs were coming up and could contact the drivers directly. You can see who is being dropped off and if someone left something behind in a car.”
In addition, KLS offers an app, which has registered 5,000 downloads, and presents videos of its products and services to clients. Each events passenger receives a link to download the KLS app to receive alerts and ride information.
Darbahani also credits the help of the G-Net network by GRiDD Technologies that enables software systems to connect on affiliate bookings and available vehicles. “Since we have used the system, we have had zero incidents for missed pick-ups and missed communication,” he adds, citing his East Coast-related bookings. “G-Net allows real time changes for clients and drivers that can be tracked through GPS. It has saved me accounts and spared me calls about missed clients in other cities.”
KLS has been on G-Net almost six months and does about 80 jobs on it nationwide per day.
“The amount of sensors and safety features built into the vehicles are huge,” Gaskill says. “The more tools your chauffeurs have at their disposal, the better you can pay attention to what’s going on in front of you. Every once in a while that car will see something for you. That part of the auto driving feature makes the chauffeur and passenger safer.”
Gaskill says MOTEV benefits from the Limo Anywhere software platform and its Driver Anywhere app. Limo Anywhere has the most users in the luxury ground transportation industry. “It bridges communication and makes it easier to communicate with your affiliates,” he says, citing the ease of importing information into the dispatching system.
The Rate My Ride feature through Driver Anywhere allows for faster dispatching and communication with drivers, he says. “It really helps with your customers when you can say at a moment’s notice where your driver is. And being able to discuss different flows of traffic makes you seem knowledgeable about routes.” The Rate My Ride service also helps the company apply customer feedback since they receive a text after each ride asking to rate various service performance aspects on a scale of one to five.
“We can answer questions for clients while using a positive, coachable tool for my chauffeurs. Every four to six weeks, we’ll have an all-hands meeting where we name the chauffeurs with the most positive responses (negative ones are handled privately). We use that as a tool to coach the entire chauffeuring team.”
She hopes software providers will eventually find a middle ground and learn to trust one another. “People need to let their guards down and work together. The smoother things are, the more sign-ups these providers will get in turn. I get they have to make a profit too, but they need to think about the good of their customers as well or else they won’t have anyone to profit from. If you’ve got the word ‘limo’ in your company name and there are no more limousine businesses left because they can’t work efficiently, you’re not going to exist very long yourself.”
Looking at what the future holds for autonomous vehicles, recent accidents, and deaths show there’s still a long way to go. “If a chip shorts out or there’s a programing error in one of these vehicles, you can’t take that back.” She also points out the technology will likely be implemented in the public transit sector before it even touches the luxury transportation industry. “Then you run into the same issue you have with TNCs; only instead of the driver sexually assaulting someone, it could be another passenger.”
He believes everyone needs to work together if they hope to achieve success. “We need to stop being selfish and grow together. No one has the time or power to be everywhere, even in their local market. Take the ego out of it and be humble. If I was afraid of losing data, I’d drop my current software provider. If I take care of my client, if he likes me, he’s going to use me regardless of the price you offer him. It’s about the relationship — so let’s talk and make money together.”
Carlison says autonomous vehicles will take some getting used to, but they won’t “kill” the industry. “Thirty years from now, our children will have grown up in a world where that’s the norm. But we won’t trust driverless vehicles, even though we’re of the younger generation. It’s still not normal for us. The role of the chauffeur will change, but they won’t go away.”
He says he’s always been the kind of person to test something new on the market. “Open your mind and start trying new things. When we first signed up with Zipwhip, we never used it so I cancelled. However, after we trained our staff on how to use it, it changed everything. If we didn’t have it now, we’d suffer.”
“You always hear so much talk about what is wrong. We have so many brains here that if we would just work together, we could make huge advancements. People feel like if they help support another company, they’ll be out of business. It’s the opposite. Even if you never get business from someone, take them up on their friendship and guidance and learn from them.”
Dhillon suggests those who want to remain in-the-know about the latest tech advancements should subscribe to some technology newsletters and remain well-read.
“Every situation you’re in has a solution. Work and focus on that rather than worry about what others are doing. That takes time away from your situation. You have to learn and understand the software to have it truly make a difference.”
Its use of Zipwhip, a two-way business texting service (www.zipwhip.com), has eliminated more than half of the phone calls between VIP Global dispatchers and clients, Blanchette says. The company uses texting with its chauffeurs as well, and integrates all texting functions with the Santa Cruz software system.
Complementing the texting service is automated flight checking that reviews pending client flights every five minutes and continuously updates “wheels down” times. What was once a manual process among dispatchers is now automatic, since the system can also reschedule reservations and chauffeur assignments.
VIP Global is testing and planning to launch an on-demand feature for hotel clients, which coincides with a transition to complete auto-dispatching. The software system also integrates with a portal connected to Addison Lee that empowers GPS to seamlessly communicate and track affiliated rides and information among the ground transportation giant and Santa Cruz users.
“It’s all about eliminating key strokes from reservation to dispatch to clients that drives efficiency,” Blanchette says. The less keystrokes, the fewer errors. With celebrity (clients), you don’t get a second chance. Things have to be perfect.”
“People have to fight back by using duty of care, which Uber and Lyft don’t have, and fight on quality of service as an industry,” Solombrino said. “That’s all you have left to sell.” Solombrino is confident the disruption is survivable for those operations willing to embrace and offer the latest tech. “Technology will drive people who survive,” he says. “We are improving that every day. Without tech, the industry is basically in trouble.”
Such prowess must match the industry’s legacy of safe, insured transportation with background checked and trained chauffeurs. “You have to go to clients and sell duty of care compliance levels with tech options that are competitive to Uber and Lyft. That’s what we work on every day.”
She and her team work to personalize each account to show clients the large gap between luxury transportation and TNCs. “The industry doesn’t want to be compared to Uber, but at the same time we don’t have the kind of technology they do. It’s so easy to click a button and have a car come get you, and we as an industry are lacking that power. It’s frustrating, because we are the ones who are supposed to be offering better service than them.”
A future with autonomous cars doesn’t scare her. “I don’t see it affecting the industry because people will always want to be pampered.”
She would love to see an app that would allow chauffeurs to see the extensive notes the company keeps on their clients so they can perform to the absolute best of their abilities.
Barreto is in agreement the industry as a whole needs to open up if progress is to be made. “For a long time the operators in our industry have felt it necessary to build a wall 10 feet high so no one could look over. Now that we have disruptors hitting the scene, everyone wants to break down the walls and see each other and communicate. It’s kind of like owning your own island—you can only be there for so long before you run out of supplies and need to build a bridge to a new island. Openness is the only way we are going to survive.”
For those weary about adventuring into new tech endeavors, he has quite the comparison: “Everyone’s a virgin at one time. Eventually, you’re not. How and when you decide to make that change is on you.”
It's up to travel management companies to evolve from traditional approaches to continue to provide the highest-quality experiences.
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