The DOT says it was only doing its job.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Every time we return from an International LCT Show, the reminders of constant change hit even harder and wider with each passing year. The Show we held in March affirmed this again.
Next year is the big “2020,” the entry of another decade with its distinctive trends and advances in how we work and live. The “20-20” references already abound in our culture as such a calendar numerical sequence only happens once in a century and encourages grand thoughts of the future. Next time will be 2121, and except for children who live until age 102+, we’ll all be gone.
Playing off so much heard and seen at our Show, I’d like to, in the spirit of “2020,” look toward industry habits and traits destined to shatter and morph into better options. It’s what I like to call the B&A column that informs the P&L one: Benefits & Advances. B&A doesn’t happen without busting the stilted status quo.
In devoting so much industry time to regulatory fairness with TNCs, why not try to de-regulate the industry down instead of fighting to regulate TNCs up? It seems operators would have more flexibility and less overhead if given an easier choice between employee or independent operator chauffeurs, or complement one with the other.
A true, high quality luxury chauffeured operation will spend the money to be safe no matter where they operate or what the rules. The regulatory up versus down approaches could be decided state by state, depending on political climates. A nimbler, faster, more mobile-oriented business sector will depend on services with varied labor classes suited to the demands of particular markets. One approach does not fit all.
This should not be a secret, so I will expose it: Many, many small-fleet operators do some high-end TNC work on the side to fill in the downtime. Let’s stop demonizing them and at least recognize it’s a viable way of supplementing an honest living. We need to distinguish between a legal, licensed “TCP” operator in California, for example, who does Uber Black on the side, and the typical non-limo Joe Blow with a perky Corolla running with the lowbrow Uber X and Lyft discounters. These operators are “luxifying” and “evangelizing” on-demand transportation.
With that said, I’d like to pose three standards in boosting customer appeal: Can your clients text your chauffeurs or a 24/7 supervisor and reserve runs? Can they pay via credit card in the vehicle? Can arriving clients choose to forgo an airport greeting and baggage help and instead just text your chauffeur-in-waiting at curbside, in exchange for a lower rate? Does your company text clients on reservations, pending pick-ups, and status? The more mobile and layered your service, the friendlier it appears to clients.
I’d like to call out this year’s two-time winner of the Global Operator of the Year Award, Karim Maachi of Cardel Global in Paris. He has branched into related businesses, such as the Wanderlust Agency, a concierge-level travel service that complements Cardel, and a relocation agency in Los Angeles for French citizens seeking to live there. If luxury ground transportation connects clients among airports, high-end hotels, meeting venues, entertainment destinations, restaurants, tourist spots, special events, and countless business locations, then it makes sense to start profitable businesses that play off these sectors.
One of the most positive industry developments is G-Net by GRiDD Technologies, a platform that connects multiple software networks into a real-time on-demand luxury ground service. With at least 800 participating providers, this network enables small-to-medium size fleet operations to farm-out rides worldwide. It underscores how the power of connectivity is broadening the tools and means to find affiliates and partners.
Spurred by the Internet and social media, operators of all fleet sizes can cobble together their customized one-on-one affiliate networks more efficiently. You don’t just have to rely on or appeal to the traditional larger affiliate networks to grow your business. The essential values of luxury service are originality, creativity, and customization. Affiliate networking plays right into it.
I referenced in last month’s column how fleets in the next decade will change their literal shapes and images. We’re heading toward a larger CUV-SUV mix. The Cadillac XT-5 crossover debuted at the Show, and already entertainment reflects the new “chauffeured image.” I’ve noticed in one of my favorite TV series at the moment, “Succession” on HBO, the characters in the Murdoch-like media family who animate this business drama, are riding around in XT-5s along with Cadillac Escalades and the occasional Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Look for more such scenes in TV and movies, which will communicate the new image of chauffeured luxury status. During another favorite TV drama of mine, the reboot of “Dallas” on TNT (2012-14), the oft-featured black vehicle of choice was a Lincoln MKT stretch. Fleets are shifting.
The industry buzzwords will be “upgrade,” “luxury,” “status,” “elite,” “convenience,” and “custom.” As service refines upwards, the client pool will expand. Look no further than the growth of airport business class lounges. More travelers can afford this amenity because they want it. Amid all the lounge brands, we even see first class and “standard” lounges as airlines clue in to the human desire for status, comfort, and distinction. The luxury chauffeured sector can replicate these same cravings through service tiers.
In my article in this issue about keynote speaker Michael Dominguez, the MGM executive states: “You’re either in the luxury or the discount market, but you’re not going to be in the middle. You will have to pick a side at one point and know where you’re headed.”
The old mid-level chauffeured order is splintering, and a freer interconnected system is rising from the shards. Operators can shine with flexible luxury. Let the discounters eat their own.
The DOT says it was only doing its job.
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