ride on How has the chauffeur drive sector reacted to competition offered by ride-hailing operators? Rob Gill reports
In a world increasingly dominated by ride-hailing brands and technology, a traditional chauffeur-driven transfer may seem like a luxurious anachronism for corporate clients, but the sector is quick to talk up its advantages.
Quality, safety and reliability are the words most regularly used by chauffeur operators when describing their key selling points over the likes of Uber, with duty-of-care an increasingly prevalent requirement from corporate customers.
Client profiles But what type of clients are using chauffeur services these days? And what are their expectations of this type of higher-end ground transport service?
Beth Sampson, Commercial Director at Brunel, which is now part of the Europcar Group, says: “We have an extremely diverse client base from many different business sectors, including financial, media, legal, insurance, mobility, pharmaceutical, hotels, TMCS and the entertainment sector – all of whom rely on Brunel to provide a safe, reliable and cost efficient service.”
Jonathan Dow, Managing Director of Club Class Chauffeurs, adds: “While we don’t have a stereotypical corporate client, our clients range from medium to larger blue chip organisations. These organisations need a professional, safe and reliable service that efficiently transports their people.”
The type of journey and number of destinations being visited can also play a part in a client’s decision on whether to use a chauffeur service.
Heather Matthews, Managing Director of Little’s, says: “If they have important meetings, a busy itinerary within one city, or a more complex schedule across multiple destinations, a chauffeur removes any element of worry or stress about arriving at the right place at the right time, freeing clients up to worry about the important business matters of the day.”
Duty of care There’s no doubt that duty of care has risen up the priority list for travel buyers. It has been ranked as the second-most important issue, behind cutting costs, for buyers over the past two years, according to a survey by the Business Travel Show.
This is a key selling point for chauffeurdrive operators, particularly in destinations where other ground transport options may raise potential red flags and safety concerns.
Greg Mendoza, Regional Vice President – International Operations at Carey International, says: “The ability to be able to book chauffeur-driven transportation in over 1,000 locations around the world and be confident that all the checks and due diligence has been carried out on your behalf is a major source of comfort to TMCS, procurement and travel managers.”
Mendoza also points out the importance of using ground transport operators with adequate insurance arrangements, with Carey offering coverage of $20million through its global insurance policy.
“On your own, the minimum insurance coverage in some countries can be as low as £1,000,” he adds. “In addition, full chauffeur vetting and the many checks performed add extra value when using Carey’s unique global franchised network.”
Craig Chambers, Group CEO of TBR Global Chauffeuring, says chauffeur specialists also have the ability to offer a “bespoke” service to clients, which other types of ground transport providers cannot match.
“If required, we offer personalised pretravel risk assessments and contingency route planning, making expert
recommendations based on details such as location, size of party, itinerary and passenger status,” he explains.
GPS tracking of journeys is also becoming more widely used, including the monitoring of driver behaviour – Club Class Chauffeurs offers “real time feedback” on the quality of their drivers’ performance, which can identify “harsh braking, speed, idling and cornering”.
Corporate deals If duty of care is one of the sector’s major selling points, the ability to overcome the perception of being an expensive service is one of the hurdles chauffeur companies have to overcome – particularly when ridehailing firms, such as Uber, sell themselves on being significantly cheaper than their competitors. Although many say this is a false comparison.
“In reality we don’t need to compete on price,” says Jonathan Dow. “Chauffeur drive is a value-added service that is much more than bringing a person from A to B. It is an efficient booking and planning transport option, which includes unique cost efficiencies, management reports, journey and travel audits, as well as providing the pinnacle in duty of care standards.”
Chauffeur operators also emphasise their flexibility for clients, which can allow them to be more cost-effective on more complex and longer ground journeys. Offering fixed prices for journeys, without peak period or “surge” pricing, is also seen as being an advantage. Another plus point for chauffeur-drive firms is their willingness to offer corporate discounts – an absolute no-no for Uber, which has so far ruled out offering these types of deals to companies.
Brunel’s Beth Sampson says: “We work closely with all of our customers on a consultancy basis, whereby – based on a combination of factors including volume, location and also time of the day – we extend corporate discounts and incentives.”
Greg Mendoza, from Carey, adds: “We will always be competitive in a like-for-like situation. Our sales directors and account managers will work closely with our clients to ensure that our overall value proposition, including rates, will offer the best solution.”
Innovation and integration As with all areas of business travel, chauffeur-drive specialists are improving their technology to make it easier for business travellers to book their services using corporate tools and platforms,
The ability to overcome the perception of being an expensive service is one of the hurdles that chauffeur companies have to overcome”
including those offered by TMCS. TBR’S Craig Chambers says: “We focus on delivering peace of mind and ease of booking. Our inhouse reservations system allows us to be flexible to the needs of our customers and manage successful integrations, which allow them to book directly from within their own internal software system, meaning they don’t need to manage multiple applications when arranging travel.”
Carey says its distribution strategy is to be “available wherever the customer wishes to book”. Greg Mendoza adds: “Carey is currently available on most corporate booking tools and various other channels including GDS.”
Some chauffeur-drive specialists are also benefiting from becoming part of larger ground transport operators, such as Brunel being a subsidiary of car rental giant Europcar and Addison Lee acquiring Tristar Worldwide two years ago.
These moves have allowed the creation of a more integrated style of ground transport combining different options including chauffeur-drive. Europcar, for example, is now offering a chauffeur-drive service through Brunel as part of a wider range of services, which can be combined with traditional car hire. This allows customers to book a chauffeur service for the first and final miles of their trips in European countries, when necessary.
Clive Forsythe, UK Sales Director for Europcar UK Group, says: “The key to success for organisations is taking a holistic approach to mobility; encompassing car use by the hour, day or week, as well as car-sharing, car-pooling and chauffeur-drive in order to meet their business travel needs.
“The solutions we offer business travellers focus not only on providing the best and most competitive price, but on saving time for the traveller, thereby enhancing business productivity,” says Forsythe.
Despite the essential focus on technology and offering a wider range of transport options, it’s old-fashioned high-touch customer service that the chauffeur-drive companies continue to really sell on.
This concept can still be a winning proposition for business travellers, as Little’s Heather Matthews explains: “Corporate clients value the personal service on offer and the support network sitting behind each car and chauffeur.
“For airport collections, for example, live flight arrival times are monitored, ensuring the chauffeur is waiting in the arrivals hall no matter if their flight lands early or has been delayed. The chauffeur will always have a personalised nameboard and will escort the client and their luggage to the vehicle.”
Matthews also stresses how a chauffeurdriven vehicle can effectively become an “office on wheels” where passengers can still be productive while on the move, especially on longer journeys.
With these advantages to the fore, there still seems to be plenty of life – and innovation – in the chauffeur-drive sector, particularly for the more complex types of ground journeys that business travellers often have to deal with.
It’s old-fashioned high-touch customer service that the chauffeur drive companies continue to really sell on”