Navigating the Challenges of Ground Transportation

Whether it’s through a discussion with my planner peers or personal experience, I’ve found coordinating a meeting’s ground transportation is one of the most challenging aspects of a program. Sometimes only many years of experience can prepare you when ground transportation goes awry. Here are three examples of logistical setbacks and solutions you can implement to ensure a smooth ride.

The Meet-and-Greet Mishap

My first major ground transportation blunder occurred 16 years ago when I was planning a global leadership meeting. This was pre-9/11 when you could meet passengers at the gate. I was in charge of greeting one of the top executives and escorting him to a driver waiting in baggage claim. I dutifully held the sign with his name and waited for him to deplane. I waited. And waited. My client called to say he couldn’t find me. How could this be? I was in direct view of all passengers coming off the plane. I found out later he had been on his cellphone while walking by and did not see me. Since then, to prepare for a private transfer, I search for the attendee’s LinkedIn profile, print his or her photo, and pass it along to the meet-and-greet staff.

The Drop-off Debacle

I was managing a program where attendees were staying at two hotels. The properties were 20 to 30 minutes apart to accommodate guests coming from neighboring airports. The hotels were the same brand and thus had the same first word in their names. You might imagine what happened next: A driver dropped off an attendee at the wrong hotel. It was late, and the attendee was coming in from Europe. He didn’t realize he was at the wrong hotel until he tried to check in.

The takeaway here: Prior to the program, have a sit-down meeting or conference call with the transportation company and review all drop-off points. This is especially important when attendees are flying into multiple airports and staying at more than one hotel.  Although the manifest may list the airport or hotel, a verbal run-through can reveal discrepancies in arrival times, flight numbers and airport terminals.

The Lost Driver

Here’s a scenario where past experience prevented a potential ground transportation nightmare. It was the morning of a general session, and we were under pressure to keep the program on time. This was the same meeting where the attendee was dropped off at the wrong hotel, and I couldn’t afford to have anything else go wrong. I called the bus driver in advance to make sure he was at the right location. Although he told me he was stationed at the hotel, I decided to drive the 15 minutes from the meeting venue to the hotel to ensure everything went smoothly. When I pulled up, the coach was not there. He had parked at the side entrance of the hotel because he said he saw our attendees waiting outside. I knew our attendees were wearing suits, and these people were casually dressed. I went to the hotel’s front entrance and found our attendees waiting in the lobby. I asked him to pull to the front of the hotel and made sure everyone boarded. When I asked if he knew where he was going, he had the venue’s address, but didn’t seem confident about the exact building. I decided to drive my car in front of him and escort him directly to the front door of the venue.

In this case, instinct told me this driver would get lost without an escort. Although I diverted a schedule delay, I learned it’s as important to perform a site visit with a transportation company as it is to perform one at a hotel. Ask in advance if your transportation contact will perform a dry run with you during your site visit. You can then time the route that will be traveled the day of the event and confirm exact pickup and drop-off points.

While many ground transportation issues are out of your control, putting procedures in place preconference and developing a strong relationship with reliable transportation companies goes a long way to mitigating a bumpy ride.

Monica Compton, CMP, is a travel writer and event marketing consultant with Pinnacle Productions Inc. She has 24 years of experience planning meetings in 31 countries and five continents.