We do a lot of CME and Association meetings, and unfortunately, due to the nature of their funding, the budgets for these types of meetings tend to be on the smaller side. We recently found ourselves in unfamiliar territory when we were onsite for a meeting in Los Angeles. For this particular meeting we were forced to go with a ground provider other than our preferred vendor due to a tight budget. Before the meeting, we contacted the provider on several occasions to reconfirm pickup times and to ensure that they had our credit card on file so that they would not ask our clients to remit payment. Unfortunately, it ended up being a total nightmare. One speaker arrived and could not locate his car. He immediately called our Program Manager for assistance in locating his vehicle and to express his frustration. Meanwhile, the Conference Manager was on the phone with the provider working to assist the driver in locating our doctor. After 20 minutes, our speaker decided to hop on the Super Shuttle, which turned out to be a big mistake! Knowing that this would only add to his frustration, and that the driver of his hired vehicle had already spotted him, we had to convince him to get off the Super Shuttle and into his sedan. After a number of apologies and reassurances that the rest of his trip would flow smoothly, we managed to get him into the sedan. Success – or so we thought.
As it turns out, our provider did not update their records accordingly and ended up asking the passenger to remit payment! Our Conference Manager raced out to the car upon its arrival to the hotel to intervene and sent the speaker inside for slide review. After having watched all of this unfold, we immediately called dispatch to reconfirm all arrivals and payment instructions. Forty-five minutes later, another speaker lands, and guess what? Their car is not there and we end up dealing with the same situation all over again! The same thing happened again and again. Four arrival transfers, and not a single one went smoothly. As it turned out, and unbeknownst to us, the provider that we used had only 1 sedan in its fleet. The driver was basically picking up from the airport, dropping off at the hotel and then racing back to the airport for the next pick up, running later and later every time. To add insult to injury, all the speakers talked about during the meeting was their awful experiences with the late, rude, and utterly confused driver. We ended up cancelling every departure transfer with that company in hopes of reducing speaker (and planner) frustrations, and instead put our speakers in cabs. In hindsight, I wish we would have thought to give Über a try!
After the meeting was over, we sat down to brainstorm alternative solutions in the event that we found ourselves in a similar situation in the future. We love our preferred provider, but even with negotiated discounts, their quotes still tend to come in considerably over budget. In our research prior to the Los Angeles nightmare, we had found numerous reviews for the provider that we used, all of which were considerably good. So what went wrong? Well, first, we were completely unaware that the company only had 1 sedan in its fleet and that they knowingly accepted the job with the full understanding that they would not be able to handle it. Secondly, they did not provide any sort of notification to the passengers or the planners. Maybe it’s just us, but we’ve grown very accustomed to such perks. We typically request a phone call to the onsite contact when the driver has made contact with the passenger at the airport, and then again when the driver is 10 minutes from the hotel. We’ve also gotten used to taking advantage of the notifications that our preferred vendor provides to our passengers. Arrival text messages welcoming them to the city and providing them with the name and phone number of their chauffeur greatly facilitate their arrivals.
So, what do we do when we find ourselves working with another tight budget? Obviously we will never consider using that company in Los Angeles again, but there will definitely be times when we have to go with the unknown. The lessons learned in Los Angeles provided us with a great brainstorming session on exactly what we should look for in our ground providers, and now you can learn from our mistakes. Key qualities of a good ground transportation company:
- Global reach
- Upstanding fleet
- Fleet that consists of more than 5 cars
- Arrival/departure notifications
- 24hr customer service/dispatch contact
- Group billing/Delegate & HCP breakdowns
- Mobile apps (always a plus!)
- Discounted fees for association/federal government programs
What do you look for in a ground transportation provider? Do have a preferred vendor? Would you recommend them? How have your experiences been with them? What’s the worst thing that has happened to you onsite with regard to ground transportation?