Off Airport vs. Airport Parking: Competitors or Partners?
September 16, 2019
PT: Airports often see Off Airport Parking Operations as direct competitors. How do you see your relationship with land-side airport operations?
JF: I see our relationship with airports as partners first, and competitors second. Ultimately, we are both working toward the same goal: to provide a great experience for travelers at the airport. The relationship is a symbiotic one, where we are constantly working in conjunction with the airports to help reduce congestion at the terminal curb, while also providing a superb affordable product that helps keep those travelers happy as they progress to and through the airport facilities.
As one great example, we are partnering very closely with Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix to create the most hospitable experience for our guests. The airport, which hosts monthly ground transportation meetings, invites us to participate and collaborate as we work in tandem to develop strategies from their annual ground transit study.
No matter what market or airport we’re in, our brand will always reflect our core mission.
PT: The Parking Spot has one of the most visible brands in the industry. How are you capitalizing on it to grow your market share?
JF: We’ve worked very hard to build The Parking Spot brand over the years, and strive to protect the essence of who and what that brand represents every day. And we’ll continue to build that brand through a number of digital, out of home, and experiential means. No matter what market or airport we’re in, our brand will always reflect our core mission to provide a premier, hospitable travel experience at an affordable price that our customers enjoy. Any customer that has used us at multiple locations around the country knows that they will receive the same great service, which is aligned with our brand.
Our scale allows us to take care of millions of travelers each year, and we actively listen to what they are telling us, reviewing thousands of surveys each week. We use this feedback as a catalyst to create experiences and loyalty features they crave. Over the past few years, we’ve made significant investments in technology, having learned from customers their desire for more automated and frictionless experiences. We’re deeply committed to looking at our business model through the lens of our guests, and we are not afraid to make significant investments in what travelers want and where the industry is going.
PT: Your company has 39 locations at airports around the country. Where do you see your growth?
JF: The travel economy remains strong, and we’re seeing broad-based growth across most of our markets and customer segments.
The company has grown its network significantly since inception 20 years ago, and we have ambitious network growth plans going forward. We just entered our 23rd major market in June with an acquisition in Hartford, CT, and recently opened brand new facilities in Charlotte and Salt Lake City. The broad-based strength we continue to see gives us confidence that our model resonates well with travelers, and the confidence to keep expanding the footprint into new markets.
We’re also seeing strong growth across both leisure and business traveler segments. The leisure business is supported by significant investments in digital marketing and strong relationships with partners like AAA. And the business travel growth is supported by our go-to-market efforts and programs with major corporate accounts across the country, many of which particularly value the nationwide network we offer for their dispersed travelers.
I strongly believe that we’re experiencing significant growth in both our new and more mature markets because of our commitment to investing in exceptional customer service, new products, and leading technologies. And that strength will allow us to continue expanding our network.
PT: Have TNCs hurt your market share, and how are you dealing with them?
JF: It would be naïve to suggest that the introduction and growth of Uber and Lyft haven’t impacted many travel-related industries, including this one, by changing the habits of some travelers. However, the impact on our network has largely been mitigated over the past couple of years as we have advanced our marketing practices to much more specifically target customers that seek the type of offering that we can provide.
There is an abundance of travelers who either live in geographies that are economically nonsensical for rideshare usage or who simply enjoy the ability to control the experience in their own car. Our focus has been, and will continue to be, to ensure that we understand who those customers are, target them accurately, and provide them an experience that keeps them coming back.
So ironically, in some respects, the growth of TNCs has simply made us a better, smarter company.
PT: LAX, for instance, has a huge construction project under way and as a result, is suffering tremendous traffic congestion. How are Off-Airport Parking Operators helping to alleviate this type of problem?
JF: Congestion at the curb continues to be a challenge at LAX and other major airports throughout the U.S. As airports continue to transform, off-airport parking companies are one of the largest reliefs to terminal congestion. We act as an aggregator for travelers, providing a single drop-off or pick-up location for multiple customers at a time. This means fewer cars at the curb of the terminal – which is inarguably a good thing. Our business model aims to be a solution to congestion challenge. Fewer vehicles carrying more people.
PT: Do you see autonomous vehicles replacing human-driven shuttles in your operations? If so, When?
JF: Someday, perhaps, but I believe it remains in the quite distant future. Having worked in the world of autonomous mobility for a number of years, I’ve had a pretty good seat at the table regarding the advancement of autonomous vehicles, and it will be a while
before it is commercialized to the point where it is used at scale.
That being said, we fully embrace technology advancement at The Parking Spot. It is one of our core strategic missions. We will continue to explore and even help chart new paths, using technology throughout our operation to gain efficiencies, while also creating an ever-more frictionless experience for our customers.
PT: What parking technologies do you feel will be most apparent in the future of parking operations at our nation’s airports?
JF: I believe it will be technology that makes the experience more frictionless for consumers. Not only including technology to make the lot entry/exit and tracking frictionless with LPR, Bluetooth, and Beach type technologies, but also technology that makes the commercial process exceedingly frictionless.
Commercial advancements will include further automation of services such as expense reporting, mobile payments, precision GPS tracking, AI supported personalized offers, pre-populated reservations, etc. Many of these innovations exist within the travel sector at large and are now being incorporated into the parking sector with companies like ours.
PT: How can parking operators take the lead in creating a better parking experience for their customers?
JF: We can embrace change, embrace technology, and relentlessly focus on providing customers with a service offering that thrills them at an affordable price. Travel can, of course, be a rather stressful experience on occasion, and we all need to work hard to remove the hassle and stress from the front end of this process, getting to the airport. Similarly, we need to continue to make the way that they find our products, tailor their experiences, and pay for those experiences as simple, personalized and convenient as it is in other parts of the travel system. Those are certainly some of our goals, and we’ll keep pushing hard to do so.
For the airport parking industry, so much of the potential growth and success is within our control. As we continue to lean in and embrace technology, we have the ability and responsibility to push the industry forward and provide exceptional customer experience.
We’re working hard to bring much of the innovation and sophistication that has existed in other parts of the travel sector, for many years, to our model. It’s paying dividends thus far, and I expect it will continue to do so for many years to come. It’s an exciting time to be in this sector.
Jeff Foland has served in various senior roles at United Airlines, Inc., including chief marketing and strategy officer, executive vice president of marketing, technology and strategy, executive vice president of loyalty, and senior vice president of worldwide marketing, sales and distribution; and more recently at Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. as executive vice president and chief revenue officer. Prior to his tenure with United and Hertz, Foland was a principal at ZS Associates, a management consulting firm. He is a board member of Lasalle Hotel Properties, a publicly traded REIT that owns and operates hotels. He has been CEO of the Parking Spot since November 2018.
John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at email@example.com.