• Tips For Cost-Effective Transportation

    FROM THE Fall 2013 ISSUE

    Get the Bus There On Time and On Budget Get the bus there on time and on budget in today's market.

Organizing the transportation needs for your attendees can be a real challenge, and an expensive one. Fortunately, there are a few key areas that can help you save money without hampering the quality of your event.

Map it Out
Many common mistakes, inefficiencies, expenses and general areas of frustration can be alleviated by simple pre-planning tasks. Meet with your destination management company (DMC) or national transportation management company for a thorough interview process, which should include a background check of the company’s longevity, financial stability, client references and more. Other information the company should be willing to share includes coverage for insurance and risk management, an overview of the vehicle fleet and maintenance procedures, as well as data on the selection criteria and experience of drivers. Be ready to share transfer and shuttling needs three to six months prior to the event, or as much as a year in advance for a large convention. Other transportation, such as airport meet-and-greets, can be arranged one to two months in advance.

Budget Early
The bottom line also benefits from early planning. Although it’s logical to handle transportation after you iron out all the other details for your event, planning early can allow you to lock in fuel rates and take advantage of more flexibility in available vehicles. Further, while a good transportation company is able to accommodate last-minute requests, an organization can typically save money if the vehicles are reserved early. If you do not book early, vehicles will become reserved by others, resulting in higher fares for the remaining inventory. In such cases, depending on your group’s size, several smaller vehicles may need to be utilized if a large motor coach isn’t available. This will result in higher costs and require additional coordination on your end.

Further, early planning enables you to manage your equipment better. Instead of reserving a different vehicle for each event throughout the course of the program, early planning affords you the opportunity to use the same vehicle for the entire day for multiple outings. The bus might have some downtime between events, but in the end it’s more cost effective than hiring one bus in the morning for the hotel shuttling and then another bus in the evening to transport guests to another activity.

Maximize the Route
Another consideration is the ability to better plan routes and activities. By consolidating transfers and looking at all available options, you’ll benefit from a more economical solution. For example, with air travel, many attendees book their own flights, resulting in countless itineraries and airport meet-and-greets. However, much expense can be eliminated by utilizing a program manifest. This ensures the proper number of buses are ordered and available during an appropriate time frame for attendees. Gathering such information can be cumbersome, so it is key to partner with a firm that offers attendees the opportunity to easily share their travel information, such as through a custom event registration website.

Check Permits and Restrictions
Other key factors that may impact your bottom line are restrictions and permitting, staging areas for loading and unloading guests, safety inspections and more. With ample notice, your DMC or national transportation management company can ensure economical and efficient solutions. For example, it’s possible to obtain a permit to pick up or stage at a location that normally won’t allow buses to load/unload, which obviously provides the best door-to-door service for your guests. If these situations aren’t handled properly, the group may encounter city traffic control restrictions, not be able to load at a desired location or encounter a safety issue.

It is also important that your transportation company has connections with local convention and visitors bureaus, hotel concierge, airport staff and city officials to assist with routing information, streamline staging and more. Beyond connections, it is essential that your event is staffed properly. For example, if your group is meeting in the lobby of a hotel to board its shuttle, and the staff is extremely busy, it can be difficult to get the motor coach in and out of the pick-up/drop-off area.

Be Ready for a Crisis
In addition to planning for success, it is crucial that you work with your transportation firm to plan for a crisis. Be sure to ask the firm for its emergency procedure protocols, how it handles equipment failures, dispatch accessibility and cancellation policies. Questions to take into consideration include: Will there be an employee, beyond the driver, on board that is trained and well equipped to keep everyone on the bus calm and in a safe location? Further, with safety being the main concern, can your transportation partner arrange for a backup vehicle to arrive quickly?

As a final thought, pre-planning can also give you the opportunity to capitalize on your transportation needs as a revenue generator for your event.

For instance, some transportation firms will facilitate sponsorship opportunities for the group by integrating branded bus wraps, headrest covers or other signage to promote the sponsor and/or conference theme. This not only provides you with the opportunity to generate funds, but it provides for a better experience as you incorporate the brand and theme through every attendee touch point.

- Renee Splittgerber
A member of the metroConnections team since 1990, Renee Splittgerber oversees the tour and transportation services division, its operations and sales functions. She has extensive experience, including management of multiple 4,000-person conventions within a one-month period and juggling the management of 17 groups during the NCAA Final Four. A member of MPI, she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and advertising from South Dakota State University.

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