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An Insider’s View of the Midstate’s Ability to Handle a Crowd

Written by Linda Bryant for the Tennessee Ledger

Eddie Stewart, CEO of Stewart Transportation Services, is an event transportation expert. Based in Nashville, Stewart’s company is involved in planning and coordinating all types of transportation for events all over the world, including the Ryder Cup.

STS won a bid five years ago from the Nashville Sports Authority to manage Nissan Stadium service lots. Landing the contract resulted in the company handling transportation for all events at Nissan Stadium and all Titans games.

Put simply, Stewart is an expert on how to shuttle people around, from one to 50,000. The company works in virtually every city in North America, and clients include Fortune 500 corporations, national travel and trade associations and sporting event organizations.

The Ledger spoke with Stewart to find out how Nashville compares with other cities when it comes to hosting big events.

You have coordinated and managed transportation and parking for events all over the nation and world. How does Nashville stack up as a city to host events?

“I have lived here all my life. I have had the privilege of watching this city grow and change. I will say this: Nashville is very well coordinated when it comes to these things. It may not seem that way to some people who come downtown. But our company works many other places – Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, places that have more serious traffic challenges. We do a very good job in Nashville.

“The real key to these events is we are able to sit down and plan them out with all entities and with the city government. It takes a lot of work. Sometimes it requires meeting with MTA because you are going to disrupt their route. Sometimes it involves getting the Fire Department involved because you have to make sure you aren’t blocking something that will create a safety hazard. Often, we have to engage off-duty Metro Police to hold lanes open for us to valet.

“Or in some cases it’s just to enforce the trafficking around valet (services) to enforce the safety issue. We get a lot of cooperation from the Convention & Visitors Corp. They do a great job of bringing everyone together.’’

Just how big of a disruption are the upcoming Stanley Cup games going to be?

“The Preds plan is pretty much the same plan they’ve had all year long. Their fans are very regimented in their normal routine. They know how to come to a game, where they are going park, if they are going to come early, what they are going to do, etc.

“The bigger change we’ve seen in the games leading up to the Stanley Cup is that there’s more of an opportunity to now come downtown and be a part of the action. You can come downtown and sit on the plaza or you can walk around downtown. A lot more people are using Uber and Lyft, which is creating its own kind of traffic congestion.”

Is Nashville ready to roll the city out for the Super Bowl?

“Before we host the Super Bowl, I think we should host the NFL Draft. It’s starting to move around now. It was at Chicago two years ago and Philadelphia this year. Nashville can certainly handle it.

“As far as the Super Bowl goes, you bet we’d love to have it. One of the challenges is that we have an open-air stadium and our weather is just a little borderline. These are a couple of things that might prevent us from getting that call to host a Super Bowl. There are still a few things that need to be addressed: particularly hotel rooms and stadium infrastructure. It may be a ways off, but we’d love to host the Super Bowl.”

How does Nashville compare to other cities when it comes to hosting events?

“We are not on the scale of Atlanta and Chicago, but we are probably more of an event city than those cities are. That’s because we have so many music opportunities, and we have a downtown Nashville that’s so vibrant and exciting. There’s always something going on. We can have a hockey game, a major concert and several other valet and sponsored events going on at the same time.

“You might not find that kind of scenario in even some bigger cities. You might have a big event happening, but not as many at the same time. It has a lot to do with the branding of Music City. We have so many different opportunities to host different kinds of events that surround the music industry here. That’s the unique thing about this town.’’

What needs to be fixed to make Nashville more of a premiere event city?

“We’ve got to do something to solve our congestion and traffic issues. I believe it’s more of an issue on the surrounding freeways of Nashville than it is on the highways and byways, although those are certainly congested, as well. I would love to see some sort of a monorail system that runs from Murfreesboro to Nashville or from Brentwood to Nashville. But that’s very challenging.

“Living in America makes it hard for people to give up the individual experience of riding in your own car. We have an office in Seattle, and that’s a place where every public bus is full. The culture here is just not aligned with that kind of ride experience. It’s going to take a lot of money [to build a monorail], and it can be a hard sell to lay it all out there on the basis of the question, ‘Will they come, and will they ride?’”

Does Nashville have a lot of price gouging when it comes to parking during big events?

“We haven’t seen a lot of that. The city and the media do a good job of reporting on it and keeping things in check. It’s also very competitive here. If you are charging $20; the other guy across the street is going to be charging $20. Naturally, the closer you are to an event means the market will bear a higher price [for parking].

“One of the trends we’re seeing is that a lot of the small businesses in outlying areas [of downtown] are opening up their parking lots. If it’s a nice night, and you are willing to walk, you can find $5 parking. It’s just not going to be right up to the stadium.’’

Can you give a “day in the life” type of example of a typical parking challenge downtown?

“Last week during the Western Conference Final game we had a valet project at the Country Music Hall of Fame. We were valeting right there on Demonbreun Street while a game was going. There was a John Legend event going on at Ascend Theater at the same time.

“Normally, we would have Lot R at Nissan Stadium available for the fans going to the game and for the employees of Bridgestone Arena. But because there was the Good Guys Car Show going on that week, it took over all of Lot R. It created a lot of different scenarios for all those businesses. Bridgestone had to look at relocating their employees and some of their fans.”

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40 Under 40: Colleen Chase

By Connect Staff, May 4, 2017 for Connect Association

Colleen Chase, 30, works in Seattle as senior account manager at Stewart Transportation Solutions Inc. As a 2017 40 Under 40 honoree, Chase discusses her passion for the events industry.

What I do: I plan, coordinate and execute transportation logistics for conferences and events all around the country for up to 50,000 attendees. We bridge the gap between event planners and the transportation industry. Our success is built upon strong and authentic relationships with our clients, vendor partners and staff. It’s my goal to make the attendee experience better through thoughtful transportation planning, as it is the first and last impression of an event or conference.

How I got here: I stumbled into working for this company and ended up falling in love. Since then, I have gone from contactor to program manager to senior program manager and, most recently, senior account manager.

My greatest career accomplishment: I came into this business nine years ago with no experience in the events industry. I was very shy and introverted. Today, I am managing event budgets of over $1 million with teams of up to 125 people at a time.

Impressive stats: Last year, I saved our clients $90,000 on four large programs. The transportation component on an event is fluid, so I always try to find creative solutions to save our clients money.

A specific improvement I’ve made: A few years ago, I worked with one of our contract staff to develop a live ridership tool for our clients. They were blown away we could capture attendee bus ridership as it happened and watch it on their smartphones or laptops. Next, I was tasked by leadership to work with our web developer to make our beta Live Count program even better. Today’s version is amazing, and our clients love it.

What I’m working on: I am excited to manage several complex conferences over the next year with 20,000 to 30,000 attendees. Moving them from hotels to multiple venues is a challenge, but I love a good puzzle!

What I do outside of work: I love to do jigsaw puzzles, play board games and travel.

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Shuttle Route Planning 101

Last year we asked planners what they wanted to know about planning event and meeting transportation. We’ll be tackling a few of those questions in a series of blog posts throughout the year so we hope you’ll join us as we demystify transportation! 

Like most aspects of planning for large events, there will always be certain variables that are impossible to prepare for. It’s the nature of the industry, and it probably has something to do with why event planning is consistently rated as one of the top 10 most stressful jobs. That being said, when it comes to planning bus routes, there are certainly a few basic steps you can take to prepare. 

KNOW THE ADDRESS 

It may seem obvious, but our Logistics Manager, Bethany Arthur, says it is often overlooked. Most major hotel chains have multiple locations in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. It’s (extremely) important to know exactly which Holiday Inn Express is part of the room block and which one is not. Once all hotels and event locations are correctly plotted on a map, potential routes begin to emerge. 

THE 5 STOP RULE

There are many things you want your attendees to experience at your event, but the never-ending bus ride is not one of them. General rule of thumb – do not put more than five stops on a route, and four is preferable. 

THE ROOM BLOCK  

Have we mentioned that route planning is a complex equation that can vary drastically based on about 30,000 different factors? Allow us to drive that point home with this nugget – while it may appear geographically logical to put 3 hotels on a certain route, the combined room block size may end up being so large that it would be extremely difficult to run an efficient shuttle. The bus would fill up at the first stop and have no room for attendees at the second or third stops. Hell hath no fury like attendees watching a full bus bypass them at their stop, causing them to miss the free breakfast at the convention center. *Bethany’s suggestion – 1,200 rooms/route 

ATTENDEE PROFILE

If you don’t know your attendee demographics as well as you know the barista at your local Starbucks (you’re an event planner, the chemical make-up of your blood is 50% caffeine), you might as well give up now. For instance, the attendees at a fitness tradeshow are different from those at a corporate convention. The fitness folks may be more inclined to walk, while the majority of the corporate attendees would likely use transportation. You need to know the age, habits and any relevant cultural characteristics (i.e. Europeans are more likely to use public transportation). 

THE UNKNOWN KNOWN: TIMING IS A FICKLE THING

Bethany has a few tips to determine approximately how long it will take a bus to run a route: 

  • Familiarize yourself with the city’s traffic pattern and any ongoing construction.
  • Add 2-3 minutes per stop for unloading and loading.
  • A route that takes a car 15 minutes, will take a full size motor coach about 20 minutes

DEVILISH DETAILS

A few other factors to consider when planning routes: 

  • Most full-sized motor coaches can hold 56 people 
  • The bus door opens on the right side of the vehicle 
  • Is the pick-up/drop-off located on a one way street? 
  • Avoid asking attendees to cross the street to load the bus (they don’t always use the crosswalk…) 
  • Does the city have any bizarre regulations? (i.e. Austin, TX requires special permits for buses larger than a mini bus to operate within the city and many cities have “no bus” zones) 
  • Historic cities (Charleston, New Orleans, Boston) often have narrow streets that are difficult for many full size motor coaches to maneuver 

So, as you can see, route planning can easily cause one to feel anxious, overwhelmed, confused and possibly a little insane. Don’t worry, we get it. It’s not easy, but it can be done. And of course, practice makes perfect, and we’ve had 27 years of practice!

Special thanks to our Logistics Manager, Bethany Arthur, for sharing her extensive knowledge! Do you have a question about event transportation? Let us know on Twitter! Use the hashtag #stewarttransportation and we’ll do our best to answer you! 

Are You Prepared? Planning for Emergencies Onsite

It’s no secret that the security landscape has drastically changed since 9/11. Schools, religious institutions, entertainment venues and everyday establishments have been forced to deal with this sad fact. No one is exempt, including the meeting & events industry. Together, we must face these new security threats head on. Currently, the Exhibitions & Meetings Safety & Security Initiative (EMSSI) is working to establish an SOP or protocol for convention centers, similar to those already developed by arenas and stadiums. In the meantime, collaboration and communication are key to helping to ensure the safety of all those involved in the event. 

Emergency preparedness can be daunting. With so many distressing possibilities to consider, it can be difficult to know where to start. Of course, we all know it’s impossible to prepare for every scenario, but there are a few broad measures we can all take to improve onsite security. 

In terms of event transportation (that’s us) and in the case of an emergency situation possibly requiring evacuation, it is of utmost importance to share emergency contact info with the event organizers and security teams prior to the event. During site-visits, make sure you include your transportation team in any emergency planning conversations. We have developed an internal emergency response plan, but its primary function is to protect our people and our vendors. Unless we are aware of an event-wide response protocol, our team will default to this internal plan. Again, communication is key! 

Many security details have assessed the different levels of danger, liability, and possibility attributed to potential risk scenarios. Whether you are at a convention center or hotel or even a dinner party, never be afraid to ask for a security brief on how to respond in the event of an emergency. In talking to the security team at the Music City Center in Nashville, they require client briefings prior to events and provide safety/emergency pocket guides to clients and those working in the facility. 

Ultimately, there aren’t specific questions that planners and vendors need to ask in order to create an emergency response. Emergency planning should involve collaboration with security and those working in and around the facility. It’s also wise to keep those with knowledge of any plan to a minimum – it streamlines communication procedures should something occur and it simplifies the planning itself. One venue alone can throw thousands of events every year, and because many events have various demographics and set-ups, different safety measures and protocols may be in order. Oftentimes, venue security is able to provide a range of coverage depending on the size and layout of an event. Thus, being collaborative in your emergency situation discussions can be vital to safety success. 

To sum it up, the goal is to: 

  • Speak with security teams and event planners about emergency protocols prior to events 
  • Assess potential risks and emergency situations with your own team 
  • Be collaborative when planning safety procedures – talk it out, share ideas, write it down 
  • Follow industry best practices 
  • Make emergency plans accessible to patrons and staff 

Regardless of higher security measures needed across the board, we must push forward in our industry and do our best in planning our security and emergency endeavors. 

How do you plan for emergencies? We’d love to hear from you! Use the hashtag #stewarttransportation and let us know how you plan for security for your events! 

We’d like to thank Elisa Putman, Senior Vice President/Chief Operations, and her security team at the Music City Center for guidance on emergency situation and safety details. The MCC has a full-time team in place, which includes multiple supervisors and managers ready, willing, and able to jump in and assist the event security team in a moment’s notice – and they frequently do. Putman said it best, “It’s a team effort to ensure the safety of all.”

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Planning Transportation Like a Pro

by Eddie Stewart, CEO

[written for Small Market Meetings, July 2016]

We often say that event and meeting transportation is the outcast of meeting planning. It’s not glamorous and it’s not immediately associated with the overall attendee experience. Of course, if it’s not done right, you better believe it will be the number one complaint on your post-event survey. To sum it up, meeting transportation is a big deal.

We understand that not everyone has the budget to hire a transportation management company like ours, and that’s okay! However, we care about transportation too much to let any attendee suffer through a poorly executed shuttle program. We’ve compiled a few of our best planning tips to ensure that transportation doesn’t show up on your post-event survey.

Attendee Profile: What is the average age of your attendee? Younger attendees are more likely to use public transportation, ride sharing services or walk. Older attendees are usually more reliant on the shuttle service. You might also want to know whether they are familiar with the city. Are they on a tight budget? How many typically stay in a hotel room?

Shuttle Frequency: Do you plan to offer a continuous shuttle service? If so, what is the frequency of service required? Every 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes? The more frequent the service, the more buses you’ll need on a route.

Map it Out: Group hotels into districts and neighborhoods to establish bus routes. It’s important to maintain a reasonable round trip time. We recommend no more than five stops on any one route.

Room Blocks: How many attendees are staying at each hotel? How many booked outside of your room block? This information is crucial when determining how many buses to allocate to each route.

Previous Year: Do you know how many attendees utilized the shuttle service the previous year? How does this year’s schedule compare to the previous year? Even if registration is up this year, understanding how attendees utilized the service the previous year will help give you a more accurate idea of how many buses you need this year.

Weather: What is the weather like this time of year? If it’s hot, cold, or typically rainy, you want to minimize the amount of time your attendees have to wait outside for a bus. This may mean that it makes sense to increase shuttle frequency by adding more buses to a route, or providing a tent to help shelter attendees from the elements.

Peak times: Identify the times where ridership will be highest. These are the times when you will need more buses running on each route to ensure your attendees arrive at their destination in a timely manner.

Drive the Routes: If possible, drive the routes yourself a few weeks before the meeting starts to confirm the total time it takes to make a round trip. You can also use this opportunity to check for any unexpected construction or changes to hotel drop-off and pick-up locations.

Do Your Math: We usually estimate that 70% of attendees will utilize the shuttle service. Most full-size motorcoaches can hold approximately 55 people, but you should account for luggage, bags, presentation materials and any other unforeseen item an attendee may have with them when they board.

Booking Buses: When determining how many buses you need for each route throughout the day, it’s helpful to know that most bus companies have a five hour booking minimum. If you need buses all day, you will need to account for driver breaks or switches, which may take a few buses out of service for a certain amount of time.

Social Media: During your meeting, keep an eye on Twitter. This is usually where attendees go to voice issues or frustration with any aspect of the meeting, including transportation.

Permits, Police & Insurance: Some cities require permits to stage buses in certain areas. Additionally, you may need police to assist with traffic flow. Convention and Visitors Bureaus can be an excellent resource when determining these types of needs.

If this sounds overwhelming, it can be! And sometimes it makes more sense to let a company like ours handle your transportation. The benefit of working with a transportation management company is that we handle everything mentioned above, and then some. But when that’s not an option, we hope these tips will help you create an excellent transportation program for your meeting.

I want to conclude with our biggest tip of all – expect the unexpected. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past 26 years, it’s that something will go wrong. You can’t plan for everything, but having a solid transportation plan will help you react and adapt to changes like a pro!

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Third-Party Transportation Explained

Last week we wrote about the importance of relationships to third-party companies, so this week we thought we’d dive into what it means to be a third-party transportation company.

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The Power of Relationships

By Eddie Stewart, CEO, Stewart Transportation Solutions, Inc.

For third-party companies in the meetings and events industry, a good relationship with a vendor can make all the difference. And we should know!

As meetings and conventions become larger and more complicated, third-party companies have become an integral part of how planners operate. With the ability to streamline the planning process, they take on the task of dealing with vendors or venues, contracts, details, logistics and the minutia associated with planning a meeting.

In order for third-party companies like ours to make it all happen, we must rely heavily on the relationships we have built in cities across the globe. A good relationship can make the impossible, possible. And in the event transportation industry, there are three types of relationships that stand out from the rest – our relationship with the vehicle company, the drivers and our on-site staff.

Some people are surprised to learn that we don’t own buses or vehicles of any kind. This means that we’re not limited by geography or the size of a fleet, which allows us to provide transportation services anywhere the client decides to hold an event or meeting. In order to do this, we depend on the fleets of transportation and bus companies throughout the United States and abroad.

Whether you talk to a CMP or one of our Program Managers, they will tell you that knowing the right person to call makes all the difference. And it’s a very symbiotic relationship. We depend on them to get the job done right and they look to us to bring them good business. We respect our vehicle vendors and understand their needs. Because of this, they will work with us to find solutions to most inventory or availability issues that can come up.

Of course, the power of a good relationship extends beyond knowing the right vehicle vendor.  The men and women who drive those vehicles can have a big impact on whether a transportation program is successful or not. We figured out pretty quickly that a happy driver can make all the difference. That’s why we provide a cash gratuity to all of our drivers (believe it or not, many event transportation companies don’t do this!), take the time to get to know their names and make sure they get their required breaks. They appreciate this and will often go above and beyond to provide our clients with the best possible service. We also have drivers who request to work on our shows just because they enjoy working with us. A happy driver also makes the job a lot easier for our staff.

The relationships we have built with our travel and local staff are essential to what we do. It’s more than just hiring a body to stand on the curb and herd people onto a bus. We depend on our network of 400+ contract staff to keep it all flowing smoothly on-site. At the start of every show, we make sure they are trained on more than just the show schedule. We make sure they know us as a company, our culture and that they are part of our team. They also get a crash course in Servant Leadership – our management philosophy.

Relationships are an important part of any industry, but particularly for companies like ours. We are able to do bigger and better things for our clients year after year because of the vendors and people we depend on. Respecting the relationships that keep the doors open and the clients happy is key to third-party success.

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Is Event Transportation the Red-Headed Stepchild of Event Planning?

by Liz DeJesus, Marketing Manager

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Part of my job as the Marketing Manager is to manage the company’s social media efforts. This means that I spend a great deal of my time reading articles and trying to stay up to date with what is relevant to our target audience – meeting and event planners. Every day I sort through about 30 event and meeting-specific blogs and online publications and I’ve noticed something – there is virtually no discussion about transportation. Now, to be fair, my job consists of a lot more than social media so it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed something, but I can’t help but feel like event transportation is the red-headed stepchild of the event & meeting planning world.

If there is a sexy part of the event planning process, I know it’s not transportation. I know that everything associated with what we do – buses, routes, charter orders, permits, bus signs, traffic flow, staging logistics, not to mention migraine-inducing diesel fumes – doesn’t exactly stack up well next to the menu selection, the VIP gifts, booking the right speaker and securing the absolute coolest venue for the opening reception.

Woe is me, right? No. The way I see it, we’ve got a pretty cool opportunity to influence the conversation and get planners thinking about transportation!

It’s not that I think planners don’t think about transportation at all. Of course they do! They just don’t think about the fact that good (or bad) transportation can make or break an event. They don’t think about how transportation technology can streamline events and influence how the event is planned for years to come. That’s the stuff they don’t think about and that’s the stuff I know about.

The fact is, you can plan every single detail, and have an absolutely flawless event inside the conference center, stadium, hotel, amphitheater, etc., but the moment your attendees walk out those doors, their amazing experience can either continue or it can take a drastic turn for the worst.

If you haven’t given transportation much of a thought, it’s entirely possible that you’ll end up with a long line of folks, waiting for transportation back to their hotels. There are few buzzkills as mighty as the act of waiting in line. What if it’s raining? What if it’s cold? What if it’s 100 degrees? What if you didn’t book enough buses? What if there is confusion about where to catch the bus? The departure times? Trust me, an attendee who feels inconvenienced and frustrated by the transportation service, is an attendee who quickly forgets about the incredibly valuable session they attended only 5 minutes prior. Your post-convention survey responses will look like this, “The opening session was great, but I had to wait for 40 minutes for a bus to go back to my hotel! I missed a luncheon and I never even got to the reception on time. What a waste!”

[I’d like to refrain from being too sales-y here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say – we’re pretty good at making sure your survey responses DON’T look like that.]

Did you even know how valuable transportation data can be when it comes to planning your next event? Imagine if you could check your smart phone and know in real time exactly what time and how many attendees departed from Point A, on their way to where you are at Point B to attend the opening General Session? Would you potentially be able to make more informed decisions about what attendees find valuable, what they don’t? Could you potentially and more accurately determine your F&B needs, your venue size based on how many people attended the reception last year? What if you had the data at your fingertips to determine if there was high (or low) demand for transportation? Was it worth the added expense? Or did it add value for your attendees? What if you lived in a world where you could have that information? [Good news, you do live in that world. You can have that information. We can give it to you.]

So, I’m writing this post in part to illustrate the value in our service (of course), but partly to pose the question, what do planners think about when they think about event transportation? I am genuinely curious and interested in starting a valuable conversation for both you and us.