Securing airport transportation for attendees is a component of event planning with a lot of, ahem, moving parts.
Helping attendees arrive safely and on time is crucial for an event’s success, and yet it’s frequently overlooked or even forgotten in favor of planning the details of the event itself. But arrival at the airport is the kickoff of the attendee experience and should be planned accordingly.
This is no small task. From budget to attendance, there are many variables that can affect how attendees get from the airport to the event. Whether attendees are hopping into a limousine or an Uber, here’s how planners can make sure their airport transportation runs smoothly.
Deciding What’s Right
With so many different ways to transport attendees from the airport, it can be difficult for planners to determine which method of transportation is the best fit. So how can they decide? For many events, it comes down to just two key factors: the client’s wishes and budget.
“It’s really based on what our clients want,” said Patti Hastie, director of client services at ProGlobalEvents, a Silicon Valley-based events agency.
Providing well thought-out transportation elevates an event’s presentation because it makes its attendees’ lives easier. It streamlines the arrival process, so they don’t have to worry about finding or paying their way to the event.
“You look at the event itself, and you have to decide how you want your folks coming in,” said Priscilla Blevins, senior meeting manager at JR Global Events, a Philadelphia-based meeting and event planning company. “From the moment they step out of that plane and step onto that shuttle, you want them to be comfortable and you want that presentation to be ‘wow.’”
Clients who want to present their event as especially upscale may want to provide transportation such as a high-end shuttle service or individualized car service. Added details like personalized greetings or complimentary beverages within the shuttle or car are ways to add an extra luxurious feel to event transportation.
Clients who are concerned about sustainability will probably want to go with a shuttle service that can accommodate more guests.
Another major factor that determines how attendees make it from point A to point B is budget. There’s no denying that providing airport transportation is a big expense, but some planners argue it’s worth the expense because it gives attendees a seamless and positive experience to kick off the event.
“The arrival experience sets the tone for the rest of the meeting or event,” said Chris Esposito, general manager at Hello! South Florida Destination Management, a national destination management company. “If their first experience coming into a destination is a chaotic or negative one, it could spill over into some other parts of the meeting.”
In addition to client expectations and cost, planners need to consider other information before picking a method of transportation. It’s helpful to know logistics, such as the distance between the airport and the event and the number of expected attendees. Planners should also gather as much information as possible about attendee arrivals. This information can determine the most appropriate methods of transportation and how they are operated.
For example, if all the attendees are arriving on the same flight, a shuttle to the event is appropriate. However, if attendees are arriving on staggered flights throughout the day, but the client still wants to provide transportation, a car service may be a better fit for the event.
“If you have 100 people coming in from different cities at different times, you don’t want a shuttle because you’d have one person using the shuttle,” Hastie said.
Number of attendees and event size are other indicators of the best transportation. Esposito usually only recommends shuttle services for a high number of attendees, such as 250-300 arriving during an eight-hour window. If there are fewer than that, it may be more budget-friendly to opt for a car service for them.
The arrival patterns of attendees can be used to make decisions about how many vehicles are needed, how long the event should provide transportation and how often the provided transportation should return. If using a shuttle service, Blevins recommends managing attendees’ expectations by letting them know up-front when the shuttle service is offered and how often it’s expected to depart.
Another logistical factor that can frequently be overlooked by clients and planners alike is providing transportation both ways. While they often go all out to get attendees to the event, some don’t have a plan for getting them back to the airport once the event is over. Blevins said getting clients back is a matter of both presentation and safety.
“Finish strong; you want them to feel like you have thought of everything,” Blevins said.
Ultimately, what it may all come down to is attendee preference. In today’s world, attendees are increasingly independent when it comes to making their way to an event. Many opt for securing their own transportation via Uber, Lyft and even taxis, even if shuttles or cars are provided for them.
“You see a lot of them doing their own thing because they don’t want to wait,” Blevins said.
If the client’s budget is tight or a planner can’t access arrival information, sometimes they’ll plan to let attendees make their own way to the event. If this is the case, they can still save their attendees money by partnering with these transportation companies to offer a discount code with their favorite ride-sharing apps.
Sourcing Your Transportation
Once a planner has decided on a means of transportation for their attendees, they need to start tracking them down and booking them as soon as possible. In recent years, parts and labor shortages have left many transportation companies short both drivers and vehicles.
“The gist of it is there are not as many vehicles on the road, so you want to secure sooner rather than later,” Esposito said.
This labor shortage can also extend to ride-sharing companies, especially if the event is taking place in a smaller city or rural area. If a planner suspects that’s the case and their attendees would have difficulty securing their own transportation, this makes providing transportation a necessity rather than a luxury.
When it comes to selecting a transportation company, it’s important to choose them carefully and work with reputable providers. The bare minimum is that the company a planner selects maintains their vehicles, keeps up with insurance and hires safe drivers; but some companies go above and beyond and offer additional staff to greet attendees or signage for their vehicles.
“You really want to make sure you’re vetting a good transportation company,” Blevins said.
Picking the right company will likely make things easier on the planner’s side, while picking the wrong one can spell disaster. Using reviews and referrals, give planners a good place to start.
Planners can also ask CVBs or DMCs for help selecting a company or even managing their transportation. While the latter may be more expensive, it may be worth it to a planner because it allows them to save time and manage the transportation’s finer details. For instance, it can be helpful to go through a DMC if a planner wants to use a combination of transportation services, such as limousines for VIPs and shuttles for other attendees.
“It’s also a matter of having a single point of contact and somebody who understands the totality of the meeting,” Esposito said.
VIPs make reputable vehicle sourcing even more crucial. VIPs often get their own private cars or limousines. Planners don’t want their VIPs in a car with a driver who is reckless or impolite. Even when a company CEO or keynote speaker decides to forego private transportation and take a shuttle with the rest of the attendees, they should still expect professionalism and safety.