Political shuttles carry revenues and hassles

by Joanne Cleaver

It stands to reason that serving both the red and blue political contingents should add up to green. If only it were that easy.

In this election cycle especially, passions are running amok. Motorcoach operators hoping to cash in on political events and conventions, culminating in the national conventions in the summer of 2020, will have to steer clear of amateur event planners to make the most of the quadrennial crush of opportunities.

Operators need to be aware of the potential implications of today’s highly charged political environment, said Gloria Bohan, president of Omega World Travel, based in Fairfax, Virginia. Everything from the last-minute nature of some events to the subcultures of various political groups can affect operations and passenger experience.

“With a regular convention you don’t get so much interaction with people, but with a political one, people wear funny hats and they’re much more vocal,” she says. “You can also have people trying to throw havoc, like protestors or groups of people suddenly gathering to support their candidate. Bus companies need to be careful and ready for almost anything.”

Experienced operators say they prepare drivers with alternative routes, extra modes of communication for sudden route changes and training in working with agitated, excited passengers.

Political events present less of a chance to build relationships with the volunteer party and event chairs and more of a chance to cement loyalty with professional meeting planners, hospitality providers and established local vendors, said procurement and supply chain consultant Jamie Crump, president of The Richwell Group.

“It’s very location-based. You’re basically going in and taking over a city,” she said of the major political convention process. “You have an interesting one in 2020—with Charlotte and Milwaukee you have two cities that don’t usually do this.”

The Democratic National Convention will be in Milwaukee from July 13 to 16 next year, and the Republican National Convention will be in Charlotte from August 24 to 27.

“The host cities take cues from the conventions, but the parties are wrapped up in fundraising.” said Crump. “You have these fiefdoms and as soon as it’s over, it’s all gone. It’s like hosting the Olympics. It comes together, you throw the party, and everybody goes home. It won’t be as well organized as a trade or professional convention.”

But political events also have additional contracting considerations. In particular, said Crump, the parties expect suppliers to comply with their political platforms and agendas. For instance, supplier diversity is already hard-wired into contracting requirements for the DNC: 25 percent of its contracts for goods and 18 percent of its contracts for services must go to diverse suppliers.

That’s a high-profile opportunity for operators with a good diversity story to forge new relationships with prime contractors and large-meeting planners, says Crump.

“The real money to be made is not the political convention itself but the host of other companies hosting parties, events and meetings,” said Crump. “Those are the people you want to contact.”

Tips for chartering in political waters

  • Book early so you can be sure the group’s itinerary will comply with DOT regulations. Advise customers if the planned trip requires two drivers, overnight accommodations or other expenses and considerations that non-professional planners might not expect.
  • If multiple buses are converging on the same location, consider hiring a dispatcher from that company to coordinate.
  • Designate a group leader to handle the passengers for loading on the outbound and return trips.
  • Have the group designate one person as the contact person with dispatch.
  • Coordinate with public safety officials who can inform you of designated protest areas and rapidly changing crowd size, location and mood.

“You need to be part of public safety and any special channels for the convention, in case of a riot or demonstration. Whether they’re peaceful or not, when crowds gather, you have to be concerned,” said Bohan. “People might see a bus as a target.”

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