INTERVIEW: TRANSPORTATION PARTNERS

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The transportation aspect of an event can be a tricky puzzle. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of potential obstacles. It’s imperative that your event management team works closely with a trusted transportation partner that can problem solve quickly. For this installment of our interview series, we spoke with three of our transportation partners and one on-site resource partner that frequently manages the transportation piece during execution to share some insight on some of the behind-the-scenes work.

Jim Fyfe and Jeff Baumunk, VIP Executive Services
Frank Duvall, CLi-Worldwide
Melvin Matthews, Travel Director

1. How did you choose this line of work?
JF: Funny how things happen and being in the right place at the right time pans out. This line of work kind of found me. While on duty at the Police Department in 1992 I happened to be in the dispatch office when an executive of a car manufacturing company called the Police Department and I happened to answer the phone. He asked about hiring off-duty police officers for an upcoming event in San Antonio for his executives. I told him I was interested and he said he would meet with me and if I passed his interview process that he would hire me. I was hired and handpicked my fellow officers to assist on the event. At the conclusion of the event the client was very happy with the quality of the team I put together and how I managed the program. The rest, as they say, is history. 
JB: While on duty with the Fire Department, we were at the store buying lunch, when this gentleman approached us and told us he was a police officer. We talked for a few minutes and then he asked us if we were interested in a side job driving executives around. A few of us said sure and worked a program for VIP Transportation in Las Vegas. Jim Fyfe and I hit it off and Jim started calling me to help secure drivers. Then, Jim asked if I wanted to travel and drive, and following that, I was asked if I could run a program. The rest is history. I have been with VIP since 2000. It was never my intention, but I guess you can say, we were in the right place at the right time.
FD: In 1985 I started as a chauffeur. I immediately saw the desperate need for basic customer service so I provided enhanced customer service. After many successful years, I moved into sales where I applied this same simple attribute. After years of sales, I moved into management where I took several courses to gain knowledge in HR and the art of managing people.  Years of exceeding client expectations, learning from the service failures of others, I felt it was time to start my own business. Partnering with a colleague who thrives on operation excellence, together we launched CLi-Worldwide in March of 1999. 
MM: After working for hotels for 12 years and spending an additional 12 years in-house for a couple of meeting/incentive companies, I felt like it was time for a change. I loved the industry but wanted more control and balance in my life. So, Travel Director is the perfect fit.

2. What is the first thing you do after receiving an arrival and departure manifest from an event management team?
JB: This all depends, as there are times where I do not always handle the arrivals and departure. No matter the case, I always look over the times and dates to confirm we have drivers and staff scheduled for those dates. I also look over the manifest to see who the guests are to confirm if I need to assign a dedicated driver to a specific guest. I like to sort my manifest by date and time to ensure that my manifest goes in order and is easier for me to follow. I will then confirm the flight info and make sure that the information is correct. Lastly, I try to line up the flight information and input the terminal, if the airport has more than one terminal, to make life easier for the lead, greeters, and drivers.    
MM: First thing I do is make sure I have the most current manifest electronically. This gives me the ability to manipulate the list if I have to, then I confirm that our DMC/transportation company is working from the same information. After that, I locate the VIP arrivals and proof it against the rooming list, in case the event management team has not already done this.

3. What is one thing that makes your job really difficult?
JF: This is a tough question, because there are many things, probably the most challenging is getting the information we need early enough to execute and plan for our team and ensure we have everyone scheduled and in place before executives, guests and media arrive into the city/location we are working.
MM: Mostly the things that are out of our control in the transportation world. Weather, flight delays, faulty/inadequate equipment and passengers that do not communicate change or follow directions.

4. Is there one city in particular that is the hardest to work in?
JF: Without a doubt, New York. There are many challenges when working in New York and I learned years ago no matter how well you plan there always seems to be a few hoops you have to jump through to make it a successful event. Some events go better than others.
JB: I am sure everyone will say New York is the hardest city to work in. I think New York is a great city to be in and work in and as long as the client is well aware that everything needs to be scheduled with more time in mind to accommodate for traffic and parking, then everyone will be on the same page. If I was going to pick the hardest city, it would be New Orleans. New Orleans is always scheduled during Mardi Gras. It Is difficult because of parades, traffic, homeless population and the party scene.
FD: New York, NY.
MM: It hurts me to say this, but for me it is New York City (my hometown). You have three airports and a train station to manage. It’s very hard to move large groups, stage vehicles and the traffic is trying, to say the least.

5. What about the easiest city to work in? 
JF: There are several that fall into this category: Santa Fe, Aspen, Palm Beach, Naples, and Maui to name a few.
JB: Easy cities to work in will fall into two categories, driver availability and location. Easiest to secure drivers, in regards to amount and notice, would be Los Angles, San Francisco, and New York. Easiest for location purposes, I would say Las Vegas. The location of the airport, the hotels, restaurants and convention center, make this the easiest city to work in by far.
FD: Palm Springs, CA.
MM: There are several cities that come to mind, but I will say San Diego. It has a very easy airport and hotels are easy to load/unload large buses. If you are downtown it’s easy to commute by foot or with smaller vehicles.

6. What does an event management team do that makes your job easier?   
JF: They are the liaison between our team and the client. They have an understanding of what we need and are able to capture the information from the client and funnel that to us. These events have lots of moving parts and a good event management team can foresee and react in a timely manner. This makes a happy client and a successful program.
FD: Welcomes us as part of their team of professionals. When both entities act as one, everyone involved is calmed.

7. What is one aspect of your job that people may not realize you’re taking care of?
JF: Two things come to mind. First, who we schedule in particular. Over the 26+ years we have been in business we have gained numerous staff, drivers and greeters throughout North America. This has created a vast diversity of staff and we try and assign the personality and the strengths of our local team to the client and the type of program. The second is all the behind-the-scenes things you have to do to make the job look seamless to the client and their guests. No one knows this better than the event management team.
FD: The constant lookout for any potential service failures. 

8. What keeps you coming back every day? What keeps you up at night?
JF: I actually love this line of work. I like the challenges and the fact that each day brings something new. To me, it’s like a puzzle that gets tossed up every day and you work very hard and fast putting it back together until the next day. Not much keeps me up late anymore, however, I do run through my head at night making sure I have all the I's dotted and T's crossed for the next day. 
FD: Speaking with existing and newly welcomed clients. It is the most gratifying when a client expresses their satisfaction with our work performance.

9. Is there a lesson you’ve learned the hard way that you’d like to share with others so they don’t make a similar mistake?
JF: Never assume anything and be sure you have a clear understanding of what your clients are asking and expecting. If you’re not sure, ask. This can be an unforgiving business with a lot at stake. You want to be sure you deliver your service to the highest level.  If you don't, someone else will.
JB: If you are not sure, ask. Never assume that you have the right answer. If there is something in question, make sure you reach out to the event management team to provide you with the necessary information or course of action. We are well aware that our client's reputation is on the line and we want to make sure that they are always aware and always make the final decisions.
FD: Do not promise more than you can provide!
MM: Never take anything for granted. No matter how many times you work in a city or partner with a local vendor, you have to go through the steps as if it is the first time. Ask the same questions and confirm the process and procedures. Being complacent will get you every time.

10. What should people look for when choosing a transportation partner?
JB: I would say the attention to detail, the professionalism, knowledge of the area and the sense of security. At VIP, we pride ourselves in knowing we provide a service that stands out and we always strive to provide a service that makes everyone feel important and safe.
MM: A company with experience, access to equipment to meet your needs, and one that is knowledgeable of the destination and has a proven track record.

11. How often do accidents and crazy things like that happen? And what, if anything, can you do to lower the risk?
JB: While accidents do happen, we pride ourselves in knowing that it’s a rare occurrence that an accident will happen on an event. Having drivers with a background in police and fire, we know that our drivers are capable of handling situations when accidents may occur. We also know that having drivers with a police and fire background helps keep accidents to a minimum.
FD: Accidents are rare, and crazy things happen daily. Constant training helps lower the risks involved.

12. What resources/tools have become invaluable to you?
JB: The cellphones, smart phones, and navigation. I look back and think on how we did this job before having cellphones. While we were able to do our jobs at a high level of service back in the day, we are much more efficient and organized today. Having the internet available on your phone to track flights, finding a restaurant or store for the client, or seeking current traffic conditions, is very valuable and necessary. For the most part, we are not sitting behind a computer so we do not always have that luxury. Also, navigation is handy, as you cannot expect everyone to know every road. Being able to change course because of an accident, road closure, construction, traffic, etc., is very important for a transportation company.
MM: My iPad. With it, I always have access to my manifest electronically. I can check flights, have program signage or name signs in an instant, and access email. The other item is a portable charger for my devices. When you are on the curb managing transportation, there is never an outlet where you need it.

Do you have a question that didn’t get answered above? Drop it in the comments!

A special thank you to our trusted partners Jim Fyfe, Jeff Baumunk, Frank Duvall and Melvin Matthews for answering our questions. Interested in getting in touch with these partners? Email us at info@thirdaveevents.com for an introduction.