They say that the “whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.” For one group of transportation companies, nothing could be truer.
In 2007, an association of airport shuttle companies, known as GroundNet, reorganized itself as a limited liability corporation, for the purpose of creating a single marketing entity that could create a national and international presence for the individual companies.
Today that company, The GO Group, LLC encompasses 35 airport transportation companies serving 68 airports in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe.
“Many of us believed there was a benefit to creating a single brand that passengers would recognize from one airport to the next,” says John C. McCarthy, who has served as the group’s president since the national launch. “We also felt that collectively we would have greater opportunities to negotiate with suppliers, corporations and national travel wholesalers.”
Another impetus came from the airports, according to Ray Mundy, executive director of the Airport Ground Transportation Association and an early advocate of establishing a national brand for shared-ride shuttle operations.
“In the 1980s, when many shared ride shuttle services were launched, airport ground transportation was considered strictly a local business,” he says. “Passengers got off the plane and then looked for a taxi or shuttle to take them to their destination.”
With the advent of the internet, branding became more important as passengers began pre-booking ground transportation, Mundy points out. The airports, which are concerned with satisfying national travelers, wanted to make sure they had recognized shuttle operators at their terminals just as they have nationally recognized car rental companies.
McCarthy confirms that for many GO members, having a national brand was critical to securing an airport contract. The first task to creating that brand was choosing a distinctive, recognizable logo and identity that could be easily adopted by the local companies, each of which maintains its individual ownership.
A green arrowhead with the word “GO” was selected. Today, the majority of GO companies operate white or silver vans with the GO identity. And each operator uses the word GO in front of its name.
While member companies maintain their own websites and call centers to take reservations directly in their local markets, a joint, international website (www.goairportshuttle.com) was developed that allows passengers to book shuttles in all of the GO cities. The biggest advantage of the joint site is that it creates a cross-selling opportunity, allowing travelers to arrange transportation at both departure and destination airports in the same transaction.
Creating a collective website was simplified by the fact that many of the original GroundNet members were already using the same reservation system—one developed by The Hudson Group in Lawrence, Mass. Hudson, which also engineered the joint reservation system and hosts the goairportshuttle website, is a member of GO and partners with the operating companies to make sure their reservation system incorporates all the latest technology.
Other joint marketing includes monthly emails to a list of almost a half million names, representation at international travel shows, including PowWow, the World Market in London and ITB in Berlin, and an ad campaign on Google.
GO is run by a nine-person board, the members of which are all executives of their own GO operating companies. The board meets six times a year and sets direction and policy. To support the organization, members pay dues based on their fleet size as well as 10 percent of all revenue that comes from the collective website and national sales.
By drawing on the talents and resources of its members, The GO Group has managed to keep its overhead costs to a minimum. Instead of setting up a separate call center, for example, these duties are handled from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. by the Chicago member, GO Airport Express, and from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. by the Seattle member, GO Shuttle Express, with costs billed back to GO.
Similarly, the executive director, the national sales representative, the marketing coordinator and the comptroller split their time between GO and individual GO member companies. So far, the arrangement has worked very well, according to McCarthy.
In 2008, the first full year of operation for GO, joint sales were just under $1 million. For 2013 (just five years later), the organization is projecting $7 million from web sales, wholesalers and third-party resellers. This is in addition to revenue earned by each individual company.
The joint website, alone, currently receives more than 100,000 visitors and generates from 15,000 to 17,000 transactions per month.
The wholesale business grew slowly, at first, before there was brand recognition, according to Richard Kerekes, director of national sales. As awareness was established through trade shows and sales calls, tour operators began testing the service in one or two markets. Satisfied with the level of service they received, the operators added on the rest of the GO network.
“Our volume of business doubled from 2011 to 2012,” says Kerekes. “We now have dozens of domestic and international wholesalers booking with GO.”
The alliance has also paid back in a number of other ways. On the marketing side, GO has an agreement with Guest Logix to sell shuttle tickets on airplanes, and an arrangement with Visa credit cards, whereby cardholders can get a discount on GO reservations by going to a designated portal. In addition, GO members frequently share group business from one city to another.
Members have also benefitted from collective purchasing. By working together, they now get better rates on credit card processing. Similarly, a deal was recently struck with a national photography company to provide members with new fleet photos for a cost of $200, of which GO is paying half. The group is also working with a propane fuel provider on lower fuel costs and conversion rates.
“The biggest benefit,” according to McCarthy, “may be the fact we have 35 entrepreneurs who are working together to achieve common goals.”
“We try to create as many opportunities as possible for members to meet, exchange ideas, share resources and create joint ventures,” he adds.
The organization meets three times a year. In between there are phone conferences, webinars, reports and frequent emails to keep everyone up to date.
“Communication is critical to an organization like ours.”
What’s next? McCarthy says that the organization is planning to sell additional services on its website, including sedans and tours. In addition, the company, which already has members in Paris, London and Prague, hopes to increase its international presence. The most recent meeting was held in Madrid, with six prospective European members in attendance.
“We already know the benefits of a strong national alliance. These benefits can only multiply exponentially on an international basis.”