Your annual convention is just four days out. Your marketing, promotion and MICE teams have worked diligently for the past several months to stage the company’s annual gala to celebrate the results of the previous year, reward its best performers and announce next year’s new products for continued growth. The multi-media production team has put together the best digital presentation in memory and the crew is at the venue setting up.

Your brand message sizzles and everyone agrees the vision going forward is explosive. The pre-event promotion was spot on. The CEO along with the entire C-suite of executives will take the stage in front of twenty-five hundred attendees. Registration begins at four o’clock, opening remarks at seven. It’s [ital] showtime, folks! [end ital] For the next three days, your brand is going to kill it. But there’s a problem – no one thought about arranging a ground transportation provider.

Ground Transportation

Well-planned ground transportation can be a make-or-break for the success of meetings, big and small or at home and out of town. On the other hand, the best-planned event that overlooks ground transportation well before the doors open runs the risk of things going very wrong – ranging from annoyances like late arrivals to disastrous security incidents.

Unfortunately, it’s a frequently neglected part of the planning process where local experience, logistics expertise and fleet capabilities can provide significant value added. But, one size does not fit all. As they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location.

Map Out a Plan 
If the event is local, it may be more efficient to use a rideshare service with pre-paid codes. For bigger meetings, legacy ground transportation services may make more sense. It all comes back to pre-planning to prevent big headaches when it comes time for your attendees to arrive – and depart. The last thing you want is a terrible ground transportation experience to be the first or last impression for attendees.

“When onsite ground transportation is a requested element of an event, it should be given no less attention than any other aspect of that event, and often it should be given a bit more,” says Dan Conway, manager of onsite operations and event solutions at BCD Meetings and Events.

“Whereas some aspects of an event are simply a matter of practical or aesthetic choices, ground transportation often requires considerably more logistical analysis and cost consideration. And while some changes to your group transportation can be made onsite without incurring additional costs or unwanted consequences, a solid transportation plan is usually the result of research, time and consideration that’s only available during the planning phase,” Conway advises.

Thinking about ground transportation late in the planning process has the potential to cause serious problems, agrees general manager and bus genius Carol Mondello of Ground Charters, which offers a stable of motorcoaches, mini-coaches, sprinter vans and mini-buses. Mondello says vehicle availability is critical. “If you have a meeting during peak seasons, or perhaps in an area with few bus companies, a meeting planner shouldn’t just assume that there will be a bus or many buses available,” she warns. “As with hotel rooms, there are a finite amount.”

And poor planning or execution can create costly budget surprises, since ground transportation is typically a higher portion of the budget than most people anticipate. “Rates have been consistently increasing over the past few years,” Mondello says.  “That $300 airport transfer you got four years ago is now most likely doubled. If you wait too long and have to bring someone in from another city, it’s going to cost you a lot more.”

Getting Personal 
Technology and demographics are driving change in personal travel, which are spilling over into expectations meeting attendees have about their event transportation. “The personal travel experience is evolving, and today’s employees seek the same evolution in business travel,” says Caitlin Gomez, head of corporate travel partnerships at Lyft Business.

“It’s important to provide them with seamless, stress-free travel experiences that match or exceed their personal travel preferences. To deliver on these experiences, companies need to work diligently ahead of events to make the most of their traveler’s time and generally ensure that the transportation runs seamlessly,” Gomez notes.

Another high-touch consideration for travel to and from key events is choosing the right mode of transportation for an organization’s C-suite executives. That often skews toward a more personal, secure and luxurious experience that can only be found with a black car provider.

“Handling black car ground transportation for events and meetings is essentially all about perfect planning,” says Dr. Sascha Meskendahl, chief revenue officer of Blacklane, a global black car service provider. “It is never too early to think about how your guests get from point A to point B.”

If necessary, he says his team will travel with the event’s organizers to scout the location in advance to make sure everything runs smoothly. “You don’t need to know every single flight or exact departure times of every ride when you first reach out to us,” Meskendahl advises. “The number of vehicles along with distance or time required is enough to get a quote. Especially if your event has very specific requirements, such as vehicle make and model and chauffeurs’ languages – this will increase the lead time.”

Besides black car, Meskendahl says Blacklane also features chauffeured buses and mini-buses, which can be found on their website or mobile app.

Share and Share Alike 
Ground transportation is an important piece of the event puzzle, and like any other program expense, ground transportation has to be budgeted. “Inevitably the program’s budget will dictate the terms for providing airport transfers to a group,” Conway says. “While organized sedan and motorcoach transfers will likely come at a higher cost, they do give your group more control, accountability and quality assurance with the transportation being provided.”

And, he notes, ridesharing services allow a travel group “more flexibility at a lower cost with less wasted transfers.” But there are always a few wild cards in the deck. “Local vehicle availability can be a problem,” Conway says. “Sometimes a destination only has a very limited supply of certain types of vehicle for hire through a DMC or transportation company.”

Ridesharing services have become a fairly global phenomenon, but Conway warns it’s “always worth investigating if your events destination has a robust ridesharing presence or if it’s smaller or even non-existent.”

However when ridesharing is available, travel buyers can use booking data to engage the companies to provide convenient transportation options for specific meetings or events, according to Jennifer Steinke, global head of travel for PPD. “Buyers can procure event codes specific to the dates and locations from ridesharing companies and provide this information to their travelers.” Even if a buyer opts to not to provide an actual event code, she says giving the ridesharing companies anonymized information about the dates and arrival times would allow the provider to have enough drivers at or near the airport.

“We’ve done large buses, mini-buses and have now even used an event code with our ride sourcing partner, Lyft,” says Rosemary E. Maloney, senior manager global travel at Tapestry and a [ital] BTE [end ital] Think Tank contributor. She says it gave attendees a wider range of choices. “While this method wouldn’t work for all companies or even all meetings at my company, using a ridesharing company for an event is another alternative,” she adds.

Innovations in technology continue to make it easier to book black car services as well. Liz Carisone, CEO of limousine and car service provider GroundLink, says their travel management software, BRIO, was built with travel planners in mind. “BRIO links travelers with their travel arrangers, saves histories and preferences, and allows for multiple booking options, including point to point, hourly, and as directed rides, as well as rides with stops.”

Carisone points to the company’s recently-added Events Dashboard and Reporting Dashboard, designed to make BRIO “an even more powerful tool,” Carizone says. In addition, a mobile GroundLink app is available for business travelers’ personal use for airport pickup and other destinations. The company is so confident of their on-time availability that they offer the industry’s “only on time, every time guarantee,” Carisone says. “If we’re more than five minutes late, your ride is free up to $75.”

Paths of Least Resistance 
Still, for the more frugal event planners working on a limited budget and little travel data to share, cost savings can be realized using some old standbys – hotel-provided shuttles. “If your group happens to staying at an associated hotel for a convention,” Conway suggests, “then it’s likely that there will be pre-existing shuttle transfers between the association hotel and other convention venues. If those transfers fall into your group needs, then they can be taken advantage of to reduce expenditure and wasted transfers.”

However, Conway warns, “Regardless of your event’s size, any requests for organized arrival and departure transfers should be checked against the group’s flight itineraries and their hotel arrival and departure dates. This will help you catch any incongruities and allow you to ask the attendees questions that inevitably save the client money and everyone from frustration onsite.”

When it comes to ground transportation decisions, the traditional baseline criterion for travel buyers of yesteryear was which mode of travel was the most cost effective. But today, with so much travel data available, it’s possible to obtain real time ground transportations cost savings and simultaneously steer traveler behaviors toward preferred travel policy goals.

Travelers who are better informed have a better experience. So it may be ridesharing in Chicago, black car in Los Angeles or motorcoach in Las Vegas. Or it may be a mix according to the specialized needs of your event attendees, VIP guests and employees.

But whichever mode you choose, sooner is better than later.