“We were motoring toward Armageddon before Zaui”– Niall McKeever, Airporter Owner/Director
Like a lot of growing businesses, UK based Airporter had reached a crossroads in 2010. More passengers were using the service but it was struggling to generate any profits. Bogged down with manual operations like ticket sales (available at the Airporter office or directly on the bus), hand-writing A5 carbon copy tickets for each customer and checking in guests via clipboard was eating up valuable time. “We couldn’t handle the passengers and our paper trail was killing us…the business model couldn’t have continued,” says Niall.
Airporter operates in the North West corner of Northern Ireland. Shuttles run from Derry/Londonderry to and from Belfast International and Belfast City Airports. Although seemingly simple, this business is certainly far from ordinary.
Airporter now has 18 wifi-equipped, custom Mercedes Sprinter vehicles. “We’ve just launched our biggest ever timetable with 26 departures a day! That’s a lot of wheels moving,” exudes Niall. Since embracing technology to run (and grow) operations 275% since 2010, Airporter has consistently won innovation and customer service awards every year. They are currently Coach Operator of the Year in Northern Ireland.
They have a good time with it too. For Halloween, the company took over Derry’s Guildhall Square for a promotional music video of Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Derry is recognised as one of the best places in the world to visit for Halloween and Airporter got into the “spirit” of things!
Starting, Growing, and Mercedes-Benz
In Airporter’s maiden year (1997), it carried 4,500 passengers with 2 buses and 4 drivers. “You could basically run it from a clipboard at that level.” Said Niall. It started with large buses and relatively low trip frequencies. However they found this model wasn’t sustainable. “Everyone wants to travel at the time they want, not the time that is available.” Says Niall. Airporter unlocked the secret, but it took a while to make the big switch…about thirteen years to be exact.
“In 2017, we will transport about 150,000 passengers. We now have 40 staff and will clock 2.5 Million km’s this year!” says the boss. The secret to this success was a combination of operational changes, innovation and technology. Niall is also quick to point out the rise of Ryanair providing economical flights throughout Europe spurring travellers to fly more often.
“We unlocked the frequency model. We switched to using smaller vehicles, increasing the frequency of trips, and upped the comfort level for passengers”
In 2010, Airporter re-invented itself as a tech forward transportation company. With an increased focus on automated online bookings, credit card payments, electronic tickets and check in’s using the Zaui mobile app, Airporter completely turned the tables on its traditional model. “Overnight there was a transformation,” Niall remarks.
Airporter has seen 20% year-over-year growth for the last 4 years and expects to continue seeing this pattern. “It has been a huge journey in the last 7 years compared to the first 13. We have been able to homogenize different operational elements and streamline the business,” says Niall.
A Custom ECommerce Solution
Business wasn’t always so much fun. When Airporter reached about 30,000 passengers using the manual paper system, it was plain exhausting for the drivers. Niall says, “You need to treat the drivers very well, understand the pressure they’re under and try to make their job easier.”
“Happy driver = happy customer = happy journey.”
It was clear that both the driver’s technology and the back house operations needed some serious revamping in order to scale. In the office, Niall would spend a full day every week, sorting anywhere from 1,300-2,000 carbon copy tickets to drill down on customer profiles and business trends.
He knew he needed a change to keep the company from imploding; but didn’t realize this change would also lead to explosive growth.
Niall had come across Zaui in an online search and had several other options he was considering. While visiting Vancouver, Niall met with Zaui founder, Kory Fawcett. “Kory understood the industry and there was an instant connection,” says Niall. Zaui’s support team guided Airporter through the custom solutions that were to be implemented. “We needed a lot of streamlining,” says Niall.
“No other software company had the patience to listen and develop the parameters of Airporter’s reporting needs,” Niall states. Zaui developed a weekly custom report that can now can be run in 30 seconds and was approved by the Northern Irish government, which now makes the Senior rebate program a breeze.
The Reports and Metrics Mattered
On a daily basis, Airporter uses activity reports separated by category. This tells them exactly how many people travelled in which segment (locations, one-way, two-way, etc) and the revenues. This data is used to identify trends and patterns in customer behaviour.
On a weekly basis, Airporter is looking at their ratio of Internet bookings. This funnels into Airporter’s goal of being completely cash-free by the end of 2017. Only 7 years ago, Airporter accepted 90% cash payments on-site and rarely would process a credit card. Now 81% of bookings are made online using automated real-time inventory and paid with a credit card. They are aiming for 90% online bookings by the end of the year.
The real-time reporting has allowed Airporter to allocate resources (drivers, vans), monitor sales, passengers, locations, payment types, track promo codes, and marketing campaign KPI’s at a glance. “The system is very dynamic and the Zaui dashboard is a mainstay on every screen in the office.” says Niall. “We are able to recognize opportunities that were impossible to see before. We can get a report of the previous week’s travel in 30 seconds. If I told you how long it took before, you’d probably cry.” Niall laughs about it now, but this was a reality he lived with for a long time.
Local Business, Global Community
A few years ago, reaching out wasn’t a phrase. The Internet made the world a much smaller place. Now Airporter UK can knowledge-share with other Zaui operators like Banff Airporter. They discuss each other’s challenges and provide advice. “We will never be in competition because of our geographies and we are running similar operations on the same Zaui platform across the world,” Niall says glowingly. “That can only happen when you engage in a platform that others are involved with, form a community, and work towards common goals like improving software features that benefit many operators.”
The one-size-fits-all software model didn’t cut it for Airporter. Understanding the individual business needs was crucial. With Zaui and Airporter, it was an immediate connection. When Airporter started accepting online bookings through Zaui and opened up a connection to reseller channels like Viator…“I thought it would be weeks and weeks before we saw an online booking come in.” Said Niall. “Zaui said… you’ll probably see maybe 2 sales the first night… and we did!”
Driving into the Digital Horizon
Airporter doesn’t take itself too seriously. The leadership are more gregarious than other typical CEOs. They not only believe in the importance of using technology for automation in streamlining processes, but the core value of engaging with passengers to make them feel comfortable at the street level. This has resulted in a fun and productive company culture that trickles down to every one of the staff.
Driving forward, Airporter has plans to make the business run 100% mobile and are putting in steps to transition drivers with even better mobile tech. “We are riding on the coattails of an organization that drives innovation,” Niall is happy to say. “If we hadn’t met Zaui, the business would not be where it is today.”
“If you can’t already tell, I am a fan.”
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