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One might assume that Gary Kessler, president
and CEO of ground transportation network Carey International, is not a fan
of Uber and its fellow on-demand transportation apps. Kessler, however, says
the industry owes a bit of gratitude to such disruptors. As travel buyers confront
the apps' policy and security ramifications, he says, they also want to
discuss ground transportation and duty of care. At the same time, suppliers
like Carey have reevaluated their own services and tech. Kessler spoke to BTN
transportation editor Michael B. Baker about these changes and what lies ahead
for the ground transportation industry. An edited transcript follows.
How has Uber’s emergence been positive for your
It has driven a new conversation. Despite our
efforts and the efforts of our competitors, there was not that much interest in
ground transportation in the larger scheme of managed travel decision. People
paid attention to it to the extent that they needed to but had a transactional
orientation. [Now, Uber has] driven a real conversation about duty of care.
It’s also driven a real focus on what chauffeured transportation companies are
doing with their technology strategies. Traditionally, chauffeured
transportation companies built their technology strategies around working with
travel arrangers, to the exclusion of the traveler. It was all about making
sure the experience of the traveler in the car was well executed, but we didn’t
think a lot about communicating with them and about being inclusive with them
in the process. You can’t get away with doing that anymore. All credit to Uber
and Lyft, they started thinking first of the traveler, and isn’t that really
where it should start?
How have you adapted your strategy?
Before we launched all the new technology, when we
were in the design phase, I said to everyone, “I don’t want to hear about an
app. I don’t want to hear about a new website. I don’t want to hear about
direct connection. We’re going to spend the next few weeks talking about
information and constituencies. Who wants information, and what is valuable to
them? Then, we’ll talk about how we transmit that information back forth.” It
was a great exercise, talking to people across the company and mapping out the
information. There’s one finite set of information when it comes to any ground
transportation transaction, and the information people have and want varies on
their role. We set out to rebuild everything with an eye to how we meet all
What were the results?
created three new websites. Carey Connect—which is for travel arrangers, agents
and managers—allows them to manage within their program many travelers. Every
arranger has great flexibility in how they wish to manage particular travelers.
You might have an arranger that has 10 people they arrange for, and some of
these people might be high level, high touch and not technologically savvy. You
might have someone you’re tracking that’s completely independent. Our solution
allows them to make their decision on how involved they are without ever losing
sight of that person. They can determine the types of notifications the various
travelers are getting. They can have all or none, and they can change it by
trip. In addition to that, we launched two traveler-centric, more
retail-oriented websites, one for Carey and one for Embarque. They’re
for individual travelers who want to book on their own on the Web or for an
arranger who's booking for one person and doesn’t want the full spectrum of
what Carey Connect offers. We also launched a mobile application for Carey and
five, it’s all real-time, and a change in one is notified in the other, so it’s
always in perfect parity. They also allow for tracking vehicles. If you’re on
the mobile application, if you’re the traveler waiting for the car to come, you
can see exactly where your car is, see a picture of your chauffeur and have the
ability to connect right there. The travel arranger is seeing the same thing
through Carey Connect. We also created a similar direct connection to Sabre
through the Sabre Red app. Anything you do through Sabre Red is also updated
The demographics of who’s using our applications don’t run down through generations. The level of demand and sophistication with the use of technology didn’t follow clear age demographic lines. We had some clients whose arrangers aren’t involved in it at all anymore, except they’re being kept abreast of what’s going. For example, Carey’s service offering still has chauffeurs come in and greet you at baggage claim. In my profile, it clearly says not to meet me inside. He should find me at the curb because I want to get out of there. It all goes to your particular traveler preference.
Or the same traveler's preferences could vary by
Exactly right. In international, we tend to have
people wanting chauffeurs to come in.
Beside working with Sabre, what else have you
been doing with distribution?
There are more and more channels that are coming
across, and there are more and more ways for consumers and travel procurement
people to think about purchasing and managing travel and expense. We want to be
on every shelf possible. It’s not enough for us to build these great solutions
that are directly connected to our reservation system and are really just the
arms of our reservation system. We need to make sure our systems can connect to
other channels for those clients that choose not to use our systems. What took
the most time was rebuilding our entire [application program interface], and we
built it on an open standards space. We were very involved in the OpenTravel Alliance.
We’re very confident that our API can facilitate our getting on the shelves of
any distribution channel and [that we then can leave] it up to the client,
which is where it should be. We should never dictate to our clients how they do
business with us. We should let them choose. We used the Sabre project as the
basis for many others we’ll be rolling out soon.
Does that include Concur?
Yes, and probably in the next month we’ll have
that direct connection. You want to be where your clients want you to be.
Second, you want it to be easy and not lay a lot of incremental cost on your
development to do that.
Are travel managers shifting focus from savings to
The travel manager and travel arranger to an
extent have seen their responsibilities go up. There’s still a fiscal
responsibility that’s not going to go away, but it’s not just procurement
driven. Clearly, they have to be more responsive and more sensitive to
listening to what their travelers want in their experience. That’s probably the
right thing, though it makes the job of the travel manager more difficult. Not
only do you want to serve the traveler and what they want, it adds a level of
conflict between the desires of the traveler and what the fully managed program
has to consider. They have to think about expense, liability, consistency and
Are more managers developing ground
transportation policies as a result?
That’s evolving. It’s not a light switch by any
means, but I can tell by the quality of conversation around duty of care that it’s
definitely getting there. Even if it’s not written into the policy, there is a [new]
level of awareness among travel managers. We embrace that because long before
technology had any play here, Carey felt very confident and secure in its duty-of-care
offerings. That’s really what we built our reputation on.
Has Carey grown?
We have not [recently] grown our footprint from the
standpoint of franchises, but we have added more alliance partners in different
parts of the world, and our clients are following that. More volume has dispersed
among our partners around the world, just as traveling behavior has changed
among our clients. Embarque has grown steadily in the markets that it’s in, and
it will expand in the new markets. We recently launched it in Indianapolis, so
it continues to grow market by market.
Do you think the ground transportation industry
is ripe for consolidation?
It’s ripe for consolidation given what’s going
on around managed business travel. Uber, Lyft and the like have created this
very large, technology-enabled marketplace that is drawing clearer lines of
distinction between the various levels of the market. You’re seeing the regional-
and local-market-focused transportation providers—as opposed to larger network
providers like Carey, Dav El, Boston Coach and EmpireCLS—having a greater
difficulty competing. If they don’t have access to broader markets through
affiliations with network companies, they don’t have as much reach and have to
focus merely on one market. At the same time, they’re competing in a completely
new world … against people who have very low operating expense structures. There
might be more acquisition of those kinds of local companies that might have a
nice-size footprint but can’t continue to compete as effectively. Unfortunately,
some of those also are going to get squeezed out.
Are corporate clients demanding different
A greater demand of flexibility. Clients want to know how quickly you can be there. [But] the business traveler still is going to place a premium on reliability, safety and peace of mind. The difference between the highest cost of chauffeured transportation and the lowest cost is not as great as the cost of the loss of peace of mind that comes from not being able to rely on your transportation being there. That’s especially true when you look at the cost in the overall picture when they’re out on business travel. That demand for reliability is always going to be there.
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