Among hotel amenities, transportation services can make or break a hotel’s appeal, especially for group business. But with Uber and Lyft making it easy for travelers to access a ride with a few clicks on a phone, hoteliers have more options than ever when it comes to providing—or not providing—transportation services.
Late last year, the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles partnered with National Transportation to provide shuttle service for hotel guests.
Fred DeSota, director of sales and marketing at the airport hotel, said the property’s team selected NTI because the company offered more options than a traditional airport shuttle. For example, NTI can arrange private car service beyond the traditional round-trip rides to and from the airport and dedicated shuttles for groups to help them stay together.
Because NTI specializes in group transportation, DeSota said the company can adjust quickly to special demands. In one case, the hotel learned that it needed to secure eight 57-passenger buses for transfers with just hours to spare. “NTI was able to accomplish that for us with less than three hours’ notice,” he said.
Perhaps most importantly, DeSota said, the partnership lets guests track NTI’s shuttles. When a reservation is made either through Marriott.com or the Bonvoy app, guests can schedule their transportation at the same time. “Any guest that has a reservation arrived at our hotel can now go onto their app and see exactly where the shuttle is [and] what the time is to their particular waypoint,” he added.
The Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Bloomington at Mall of America, next to the Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport, has four dedicated shuttles for airport transfers. Jodie Grannes, regional general manager for the hotel, said providing transportation provides peace of mind for guests. The wait at the airport pickup area for a ride-share could easily be 15 or 20 minutes, but the longest wait for one of the hotel’s shuttles to reach a guest is 15 minutes. “The average traveler we're seeing right now doesn't mind the wait,” she said.
“We are just five minutes from the airport, and we have quite a refined system of signups for the shuttle,” Grannes said. The airport does not make pickups “traveler friendly,” she said, with hotel shuttles limited to one dedicated area that can be hard for a passenger to find. “So we have little PDFs that travelers can download off of the website or little cards they get at the front desk that directs them over and [details] on how to call us so that we can be there shortly after they arrive.” The system works well to minimize wait times, she said, aided by the multiple shuttles that can get to the airport quickly. “
The hotel also helps locals flying out of the airport, letting them stay for one night and leave the car at the hotel’s lot for a week. “They can add additional nights, if needed, for a fee,” she added.
Ben Seidel, president and CEO of Real Hospitality Group, is not a fan of free shuttles for off-airport properties. “Personally, I would rather call an Uber and spend $15 to get there rather than wait for an airport shuttle to get there,” he said. Shuttles can also negatively affect the guest experience if something goes wrong, he added. “As an operator, if I'm not meeting your expectations on timeliness and you wait a minute longer than maybe you think you should, then the entire guest experience is compromised.”
A good number of RHG’s customers are Marriott Bonvoy members, and the loyalty program offers points for Uber rides. With the industry facing a labor shortage, he said, not having to build a team of drivers can be helpful to a hotel’s—or a management company’s—bottom lines.
Most airport-adjacent hotels in Real Hospitality Group’s portfolio have their own dedicated shuttles with dedicated drivers, which makes it easier to control the guest experience than partnering with a third-party transportation company that runs shuttles on a set schedule. “And we can generally do it less expensive, especially when we're doing it on-demand and not on a constant route,” he added. Similarly, if a guest feels that a third-party driver has been disrespectful, a hotelier has limited options. “When I called our companies, they were quick to offer a credit on our weekly invoices—but that didn't help the customer.” Having disciplinary authority over drivers also makes it easier to solve any problems and mollify unhappy guests quickly.
Offering a free shuttle for airport passengers can get very expensive, Seidel cautioned: “I don't know how necessary it is. It's going to vary market by market and be based on what the competitive landscape is for that service.”