BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
Virtual, 25 February 2021
Virtual Event - 21 April 2021
Virtual Event - 9 June 2021
Once, meetings spend was known to be the last bastion of unmanaged travel, but now ground transportation may have acquired that dubious accolade. Covering everything from local cab companies to chauffeurs with defensive driving skills, it is a fragmented sector, and gathering together the component parts is tantamount to herding cats for the beleaguered travel buyer.
In addition, there can be a perception problem. “Chauffeur-drive is seen to be a luxury and it certainly lies at the higher end of the spectrum, alongside first class air travel and five-star hotels,” says Carey International vice-president Greg Mendoza. “But there are locations where it’s not acceptable to have employees get a taxi at the airport, or hail something on the street. The safety of the traveller has greater weighting than the cost. It’s risk management.”
And chauffeur-drive can be cost-effective. London is a good example. “An average customer without any real volume would pay £75 to £80 for a chauffeur-driven Mercedes E-Class from Heathrow to Canary Wharf,” says Mendoza. “I’ve seen receipts for black taxis for that journey for upwards of £120.” He adds that volume discounts mean the gap is wider for big users.
Technology provided by the major suppliers can be integrated into global distribution systems (GDSs), expense management systems and booking tools. Management information (MI) is provided to clients as required, rather than accessed by customers.
Carey also runs a cheaper, no-frills service through Embarque, which is available in London and 15 cities in the US, including New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC. “All the key areas we cover with Carey apply to Embarque – quality of service, reliability, consistency, safety and driver training,” says Mendoza.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers’s (PWC) head of business services, Mark Avery, says that without technology, managing the firm’s ground transport policy would be unworkable. He uses Groundscope, which he likens to a GDS for cars. “We have an online booking tool for chauffeur-drive,” he says. “The aggregator has agreements with suppliers around the globe and, where we have got a preferred arrangement, they’re plugged into that as well.”
Avery chose Groundscope for its global coverage and service; integrating the technology into PWC’s online booking tool is the next step. The aggregator also supplies comprehensive MI, including full monthly reports on journeys, down to individual bookings; car sharing opportunities; and CO2 figures. Cars are booked on travellers’ corporate cards; then they get an email confirmation of the booking, and an electronic invoice follows.
PWC’s travel policy requires that first choice is public transport. The firm has offices near both Charing Cross and London Bridge railway stations, and employees are given free rail tickets, and passes for the Thames Clippers to get between offices. In addition, the PWC Car Club has two electric cars from Hertz on Demand, one in London and one in Birmingham.
When employees use the Groundscope booking tool, they see a price menu of cars that range from standard to limo. “They can hover over the price to see what type of car it is and then make an informed choice,” says Mark Avery. “Just because you are a partner, that doesn’t mean you should be taking a limo. The cost tends to drive people’s behaviour.”
Duty-of-care features large. “When Groundscope signs up an operator, they have to agree to certain specifications around the standard of vehicles and the drivers; the licensing is checked – it is all part of the service,” says Avery. “So when somebody goes abroad, we know they are travelling with a respectable supplier.”
Checking on standards of drivers and cars is a difficult – but essential – task, not least because the majority of operators are owner-managed businesses of around 50 cars. Groundscope says it is rigorous in the appraisal of its partners in 500 cities worldwide – checking public and employers’ liability insurances; driver and vehicle licenses; driver working hours; ISO quality management; and rates.
The company consolidates clients’ buying power and passes those savings on. It recently calculated it could reduce the taxi bill of a potential client from £6,243 to £4,799, a saving of 23 per cent.
Groundscope managing director John McCallion adds: “When our technology identifies that two people are travelling from an office at the same time, to the same place, we ask the travellers whether they mind sharing.” Sharing is also effective for airport pick-ups, he says.
One Transport, part of Mountview House Group, is also an aggregator, with some 500 vendors – taxis, and car, courier and bus companies – in the UK, bookable from one platform. Clients’ travel policies can be embedded in the booking tool, and performance of vendors is constantly monitored. The company provides MI regarding the tax implications of expenses and benefits, and monitors fares to see that correct prices are charged.
“We are saving bigger clients seven-figure sums,” says One Transport chairman and CEO, Geoffrey Riesel. “We also have good connections with international companies, and if a client wants a taxi or car to meet them in Madrid, Barcelona, New York or Atlanta, it is easy for us to do. ” But One Transport does not yet provide a high-volume global service on a daily basis.
In fact, finding global coverage can be a problem, as management consulting company Capgemini discovered. “We spend £1.2 million a year worldwide and have tried to consolidate with a single taxi provider, but a lot of them do not cover all areas,” says Capgemini’s senior procurement manager, Roger Peters, who uses Groundscope in the UK. “One of the benefits of a consolidator is getting a VAT invoice.” The firm does not mandate policy and lets travellers use local providers.
Supply and demand
Black cab company Radio Taxis and Xeta, a smaller set-up aimed at small- to medium-sized enterprises, are part of Mountview House Group. They act as vendors to One Transport, but they do not receive priority treatment. “The system manages distribution based on availability, and drivers sign up to the rules, code of conduct and get training in the same way as other vendors,” says Riesel.
However, supply and demand is a major factor. “You can negotiate a great rate with a car supplier but negotiating too hard may affect availability, especially with owner-driver operations such as London’s black cabs,” says owner and senior consultant of Severnside Consulting, Chris Pouney. “If a driver can earn £75 by taking a firm’s employee on a journey, but you have negotiated a rate of £50, who do you think the driver is going to pick up?”
Tristar provides a global service that is run from offices in the UK, US and Hong Kong, and scrutinises service standards and driver training of potential affiliates. The company owns its cars and employs the majority of its chauffeurs. “That gives us the consistency and reliability we want to deliver; and we believe we offer the most intensive driver training induction course in the industry,” says Tristar CEO Dean de Beer. The company is integrated with a GDS and online booking tools, and supplies MI as required. The company also taps into local knowledge and takes advice from affiliates. “If someone wants an S-Class Mercedes and our service partners suggests a lower level of car, which will attract less attention, we will advise our client accordingly,” says De Beer.
Practicalities also dictate the use of a car. “It is part of our travel policy that passengers get transported to and from the airport if they are flying out and back from different points,” says Cherry Salvesen, PA to the directors of engineering firm Cullum Detuners. “We use one supplier, Croft Executive Cars, and our travellers are always pleased with the service.”
From taxis to chauffeur-driven Mercedes, ground transport plays a key role in corporate travel programmes. Despite the aforesaid herding cats analogy, there are ways to get a handle on spend, and make notable savings in the process.
Click here for 10 tips on managing ground transport suppliers