You never get a second chance to make a first impression. If you are in the hospitality business, you might think that the first impression is at reception. Or perhaps you consider the visual impact of the hotel entrance as a starting point.
But in many instances, and to your eternal shame, it’s the shuttle bus.
For airport hotels, the shuttle bus is the transition from the tender mercies of the airport/carrier system into the care of the hotel. The airport doesn’t run the shuttle bus, the hotel does. And yet, the experience is so incredibly varied for such a simple idea. You just need to get me the last mile (or perhaps a couple) in safety, comfort and yes, a reasonable timeframe. Doesn’t seem too much to ask, does it?
Airport hotel customers are professionals. Think George Clooney in Up In the Air. They have high airline status so they can check in quickly. They fold their clothes with military precision so they can pack for a week’s travel and 3 climates in a rolling-cabin-case, all to save a few minutes in baggage claim (or a few hours depending on your luck). They are Hertz #1 club members. In short, they have business travel down to a fine art, all with the goal of minimizing down time. They don’t plan on spending more time getting from the terminal to the hotel than it took to get from New York to Atlanta.
Enter the hotel shuttle bus…but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we need to think about airport hotels.
The whole point of the airport hotel is to provide quick and easy access to and from the airport. We’re not staying there for the luxury or breakfast-buffet options. If marketed as an “Airport Hotel” we may reasonably expect it to have fairly close proximity to the airport. Look – I can see it from the airport exit! Even better, from the runway as we taxi! It’s THAT close, I can almost touch it!
However, two universal rules always seem to apply to airport hotels.
- However physically close, there must be no practical way of walking to the hotel. And if this rule is shamefully broken, there must be no smooth path to enable rolling luggage. Even Sherpa Tensing would give up on traversing the freeway/parking lots/swamp/minefield (mountain?!) that lies between the airport and the airport hotels.
- To get there, you must take the shuttle bus. The local cab drivers, even if willing to break the rules and take such a short fare – “I waited 20 minutes to get to the front of the taxi rank – for THIS?” – must be coerced into refusing the journey. Some system of collusive rules must conspire to prevent any other option.
So that leaves us with the bus. Shuttle bus schedules operate in a system that has been modelled by operational research experts. The colder the outside temperature, the less frequent the cycle. Apparently, buses must slow down with cold weather. This ensures you only wait a long time when it’s too cold to wait a short time.
The routes are cleverly designed so that the bus will make multiple hotel stops and – here’s the sophisticated bit – will always reach your hotel last. This is designed to present you with all the alternative forms of accommodation that you declined because it was too expensive for your travel policy. I can now perform flash-card recognition of every entrance to Chicago O’Hare hotels in less than 15 seconds.
The bus must be driven either very slowly, à la Mr Magoo, or in the style of Mario Andretti, presumably to make up the time you spent waiting for the bus in the first place. There will be no seatbelts.
You probably have your own favorites. Mine is the “Hotel Hopper” system. Devised for London Heathrow Airport hotels, the transportation officer responsible has obviously never set foot in an airport, on a plane – let alone a bus! Is this the same Brit who, 100 years earlier, divided India from Pakistan without having been to India?
In a transport system that can whisk you to central London in 15 minutes on the Express train, it can take 45 minutes to reach a hotel visible from the runway. And you pay for the privilege because the buses seem to be run by the same people who offer double-decker bus tours of the city. Apparently, visiting 10 other hotels en route is worth a few quid.
Why should you care? If you run one of these hotels, your customer arrives cranky and frustrated. That’s the first customer experience they have of your brand. Aren’t you missing an opportunity?