Arranging for Smooth Ground Transit

How to choose, schedule and budget for car, van and bus service

More tips
Prior to the event, be sure to get the names and personal cell phone numbers  of individual drivers in case you need to reach them directly during the transfer times.

Before hiring a luxury car to pick up VIPs, find out if the property has one for that purpose; you often can request use of it as a value-added perk.  

Leverage Drive Time
Attendees in transit are a captive audience. Use this time to enhance the experience -- for example,  show a video of destination highlights -- or to share meeting-related updates or announcements. During airport transfers, use the drive time to pre-register attendees or distribute room keys.

Ground transportation is one of those event elements that attendees often take for granted, as long as there are no problems. However, if any aspect goes wrong -- late airport pickups, surly drivers or traffic delays -- it can quickly become the unwanted focus of delegate ire. Take note of the following guidelines to ease your vehicle logistics.

Assess Needs
The first step planners should consider is their transportation needs. Typically, they'll fall into one of these categories:

• Airport transfers. Vehicles typically used are vans or buses for larger groups; for VIPs, consider luxury vehicles. (Note: Ground transportation firms have their own guidelines and regulations on how many guests vehicles accommodate and will use them to make specific vehicle recommendations.)

• Convention center transfers. You'll need buses that follow a route and pick up attendees from several stops on the way to the conference facilities.

• Off-site event transfers to dinners, parties, etc. Vans, buses and, for smaller groups, town cars are typically used. Again, consider luxury cars for VIPs.

Find a Vendor
After determining your transportation needs, the next step is to hire a ground transportation operator. Veteran planners may be able to work directly with a transportation firm. Contact the local destination marketing organization or check out member listings with the American Bus Association at

However, if your event has more than 30 attendees or if you have not staged a complex transportation operation before, your best bet is to work with a destination management company, a supplier that specializes in ground transportation. Find them through the local DMO or the Association of Destination Management Executives International at

In addition to hiring vehicles, DMCs can organize transit schedules, assist with budget negotiation (they often get volume discounts), troubleshoot routes and prequalify local transportation firms to make sure they are insured, drivers are licensed and properly vetted, and vehicles have passed inspection.

Budget Right
Transportation can be a significant line item in an event budget. To keep costs under control, budget for the correct time span (based on the ground operator's or DMC's recommendation), and make sure the contract states when overtime charges kick in.

Note that ground operators typically consider the time the vehicles leave the garage -- not the time they arrive at the pick-up spot -- as the start time. Vehicles generally arrive 30 minutes before actual pickup time; keep that cushion to accommodate early-arriving attendees.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is an event producer and writer who specializes in strategic global event marketing. She is based in Pacifica, Calif.