Sometimes, the term third party has a bad connotation in the business world. The term means driving money to a middle man when you could potentially do the work. Using a third party means you pay someone to do the work for you.
So why would a planner use a third-party business instead of going direct to a vehicle transportation vendor? There are many reasons: the event transportation component is larger this year, the planner does not have adequate personnel or resources to produce and organize tours, every vehicle in town is sold out, or a planner might not know which vendor to call in an unfamiliar market.
There are several types of third-party transportation companies that may be useful to planners. The key is to recognize and understand the differences between them and decide which type best fits your program.
Destination Management Companies (DMC) – DMCs are local to a particular city and offer several services that range from sightseeing tours to airport meet-and-greet service. They are considered experts who possess extensive local knowledge and specialize in the design and implementation of corporate and leisure events. They are great marketers and network successfully with other DMC companies throughout the world in mining for your business. The DMC is resourceful and can often save planners time and provide more of a personal touch.
Vehicle Brokers – A broker is a company that operates nationwide and matches the customer with a specified vehicle. Planners call a nationwide toll-free number and relay travel information to a customer-service operator. The broker books the equipment from their vendor pool and confirms the order with an electronic confirmation. Brokers rarely offer any other added services. They build a network of nationwide vendors and dump the information into their vehicle database. Everything is arranged long distance.
Affiliates –Planners can turn to the town car company or a bus company in the town where they live to assist them in other markets. The town car industry does a particularly good job of working through their affiliated networks and trade organizations like the National Limousine Association. Bus companies work through their affiliates too, such as the American Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association, International Motor Coach Network and Trailways. A local vendor can recommend a friendly vendor in the town where a meeting is being held and can even make all of the arrangements on the planner’s behalf. There is always peace of mind working with someone in your hometown that you trust.
Transportation Coordination Firms –A few companies sprinkled around the United States specialize in event ground transportation. They differ from the others mentioned in that they only manage transportation programs. Coordinating firms work mostly on the large and complex-type shuttle programs. They often travel from city to city with their client, mostly in the larger convention markets, bringing in their own coordination and logistics team to manage the shuttle service. Depending on the size and scope of a program, they can arrange for vehicles and provide staff and planning services.
In all of these cases, planners will pay a fee for services. The key to working with third-party companies is to understand their role. They can add value to a program and be great time-savers. So don’t overlook them; look at them as a new resource for your business.
Eddie Stewart is president of Stewart Transportation Solutions Inc., a ground transportation coordination firm based in Nashville, Tenn. Eddie has been in the transportation and hospitality business for more than 30 years. His company manages numerous corporate and association accounts and spends more than $5 million annually on motor coaches, mini-buses and sedans.