By Todd Layton
The evolution of any industry is a constant and natural process that is fascinating to witness. The group travel industry, and group transportation in particular, is certainly no exception to the evolutionary process. Environmental, technological, economic, political and social elements all contribute to the many changes currently happening in the group transportation world.
When a company or an association is in the planning process of hosting an event, the destination, meeting content, lodging options, group activities available and the return on investment are usually the initial points of discussion. The topic of group transportation is often “put on the back burner” and not discussed until after the event budget has been allocated to the more glamorous and fun elements of a program. But, as all experienced meeting planners know, well-thought-out airport and local transportation is the foundation of an event’s logistical success in Colorado and elsewhere.
With the recent rise and availability in shared-ride services, some companies have tried to avoid transportation planning and costs by saying, “Let’s just have the attendees catch an Uber to the hotel or venue.” This option may seem like an easy solution and could be a viable option for certain types of events, but it could be a costly mistake for many group meetings and conferences and here’s why.
First impressions are important. An attendee’s first impression of an events destination and the conference logistics are often made upon arrival at the designated airport(s) in Colorado or beyond. Regardless of how well traveled attendees are, it is certainly comforting and impressive when an arriving passenger is met by a professional, uniformed event staff person with a group (or name) sign in the airport terminal. The greet staff will direct passengers to the appropriate bag claim area (if necessary) and to the exclusive group vehicles that are waiting to expedite the attendees directly to their lodging. A high level of client service for the event is established at this point, and the arriving guests have positive first impressions and know that they can now concentrate on the purpose of the event such as networking, meeting content and fun!
Consider the per-person cost of moving groups. An individual traveler will often find that using a shared ride service such as Uber or Lyft to/from an airport is less expensive than taking a taxi. But, experienced meeting planners know that professionally coordinated private group airport shuttle service substantially decreases the per-person transfer costs. Professional greet staff will ensure that arriving attendees that are on the same flights are efficiently directed to one larger, quality vehicle. Or, for larger groups, deluxe coaches can be scheduled to depart every 20-30 minutes to accommodate travelers arriving on different flights at similar times.
This ensures an expedited experience at the airport, direct transportation to the group hotel(s) and assures that all vehicles are of high quality, safe and driven by professional drivers. The travelers do not have to worry about expensing back their $50 -$100 Uber or taxi cost (depending on the destination) and driver gratuities or hotel front staff tips. And, planners can instead present a $10 – $25 per person airport transfer cost on the event’s final reconciliation.
Remember other important factors before choosing shared-ride services for attendees. Availability of shared-ride service is fairly abundant in most cities, but the number of vehicles is very limited in mountain towns and rural destinations. In fact, many secondary airports in mountain resort areas do not allow shared ride service to pick up from the airports. For example, Vail/Eagle Airport (EGE) does not allow Uber or Lyft to pick up arriving passengers within a designated radius from the terminal. The Uber or Lyft app will show the airport as a “restricted area.”
Another consideration is the variety of vehicle types and drivers and the lack of consistent quality service. Many Uber or Lyft vehicles and drivers are fine. Some are not. This is a gamble for planners who want a consistent high level of service for all of their attendees.
There are many positive changes taking place in the group transportation field. Transportation companies are striving to be environmentally friendly, and many are catering their services to better serve the association and corporate markets. Also, there are more choices and options for planners to match services with their attendee profiles. A well-informed planner can now choose a service that will ensure a safe, comfortable and economical ground transfer experience for the attendees, which is an important element for the overall success of an event.
Todd Layton is a principal and managing partner of Operation Altitude, a corporate event planning company with offices in the Vail Valley and Denver, Colorado. Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.