There’s a new parking competitor nipping at the heels of airports throughout the United States, but there are no new lots or facilities in sight. The company, Greenbee Parking, books travelers into parking lots at hotels and existing facilities run by off-airport operators via its website, Greenbeeparking.com — at rates ranging anywhere from 30% to 75% less than airport prices. Passengers pay in advance, bring a printed copy of their online confirmation to the participating lot and ride the hotel or off-site operator’s shuttle to and from the airport.
Issue: New Parking Competitor
Company: Greenbee Parking
Business Model: Company books travelers into hotel lots & existing off-airport parking facilities
How it Works: Customers pay in advance, bring a printed copy of their online confirmation to the participating lot & ride the hotel or off-site operator’s shuttle to/from the airport
Pricing: Greenbee aggressively promotes its discounted rates, which range anywhere from 30% - 75% less than on-airport options.
Growing quietly since its 2011 debut, the Denver-based business now operates in more than 70 markets across the country. Announcements of new locations and new hotel and off-site parking partners, however, seem to have exploded in the last six months.
The company pulls no punches in its promotions. “We are the better, cheaper solution to your SFO parking needs,” was an opening salvo when it entered the San Francisco market. In Fort Meyers, FL, the company took a more specific approach, targeting the use of coupons and special promotions at Southwest Florida International Airport (see press release above). Greenbee’s innovative parking options, which include spots off site from the airport, will now ensure that they get great savings options round the year without special promos and coupons.”
The Best Defense …
As Greenbee continues to market discounted off-airport parking in more and more cities, airports are tweaking their own parking programs and promotions to stay competitive. The staff at Indianapolis International Airport, for instance, is well aware of the Greenbee model and tactics.
“We’re always concerned about competition, and we keep our eye on it,” says Marsha Stone, senior director of commercial enterprise at IND. “There are already hotels around our airport that offer parking to non-guests, so this program is familiar to us. We treat those hotels as off-airport parking operators, and they pay a per-trip fee. Operators are required to obtain a permit and have a transponder affixed in their vehicles to operate in our ground transportation center, and we have audit procedures to ensure the vehicles driving through this area are authorized and utilizing the transponder.”
The airport is also making a comprehensive effort to increase the value of its parking and promote its offerings accordingly, adds spokesman Carlo Bertolini.
“Our economy lot is only $9 per day, which is very reasonable,” notes Bertolini. “We have also added a loyalty program, which is free, so that customers can accrue points by parking at the airport. Program members have parking fees automatically charged to their credit card, without using a ticket or a payment machine or cashier; and after parking a set number of days, they qualify for expedited security screening. In addition, they can redeem points for free parking. This incentivizes people to park here.”
IND’s corporate parking program offers discounted garage rates for companies with a large volume of parking days.
The airport is also leveraging GPS technology to improve service for customers parking in its remote lots. In December, crews installed sensors in the airport’s shuttle fleet that provide real-time information about each bus’ location. “There are electronic signs in the bus shelters that show passengers how close the next two buses are,” explains Bertolini. “The wait is never lengthy, but it improves any feelings of uncertainty about wait times and reassures passengers that we’re coming.”
At Casper-Natrona County International Airport (CPR) in Wyoming, most parking spots cost $5 per day, but 20% are free, as mandated by the state. Even so, Greenbee saw an opportunity there and now offers parking for $2.75 at a Best Western about eight miles from the airport.
Despite the price difference, Airport Manager Glenn Januska isn’t worried: “Our parking is inexpensive – free in some cases – and it’s convenient.”
With 115 spaces free to whomever finds them first, Januska figures that CPR’s parking may help discourage passengers from driving four hours to the nearest commercial airport, Denver International.
“I know I’m losing revenue on the free parking, but you never know what the tipping point is,” he explains. “What if it’s one of the key drivers for someone to fly out of our airport instead of Denver? No one can use the excuse of parking to not fly from Casper.”
In Ohio, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) has a system to control inventory in its on- and off-airport lots. In September, CLE converted its short-term parking garage into a “smart” facility. Rates are determined by how long a car is in the garage. If the ticket is less than 72 hours old, the system charges short-term rates; over 72 hours, long-term rates are applied.
A computerized system helps direct parkers by informing them how many spaces are vacant on each floor. Once they choose a floor, it tells them how many are available in each row; and a red light or green light above each space lets passengers know which are available.
“This allows us to maximize the parking in the garage,” explains Airport Director Ricky Smith. “We would normally close the garage when it’s 85% full; now we can keep it open until it’s at 100%.”
CLE is also in the process of adding more economy options. Last year, the airport signed paperwork to acquire two off-airport parking operations: Airport Fast Park and Park Place. When complete, the deal will add 6,100 additional economy spaces to CLE’s overall parking stable.
According to Smith, the airport plans to maintain the off-site lots as separate brands. Both are corporate-type systems with loyalty programs already in place — something CLE doesn’t currently offer for its on-site parking but plans to add in 2015.
“The Cleveland market is on both ends of the spectrum: economy and valet,” he explains. “We tore down one of our parking garages, and instead of replacing it with another garage, we added an economy lot.”
Smith considers the airport’s shuttle service a competitive advantage. On-airport shuttles normally leave/arrive every eight minutes; shuttles for off-airport lots run in five-minute increments.
“Hotels are not going to invest in shuttle service to establish the frequencies that a well-run airport service can offer,” he explains. “Passengers might be attracted by a lower rate, but when they find themselves waiting 20 to 30 minutes for a shuttle, they might think twice the second time.”
CLE’s valet service is unique, in that it receives and returns passengers’ cars at the curb. When valet customers land, they alert the service by calling the phone number on their claim ticket, and their cars are brought to a special TSA-approved area.
IND and CLE both cite safety as a priority for their parking facilities and provide protections most off-airport parking operators can’t match.
“Our on-airport lots are equipped with camera systems manned by airport police and our operations unit 24 hours a day,” describes Smith. “We’ll have the same camera system for our off-airport lots. We have not had any safety issues with car theft, vandalism, or robbery, probably because of our police presence. That will deter any criminals. We have a solid track record of safety on our property.”
IND posts emergency phones at each shelter, plus a few more scattered throughout the lot. “There are 13 shelters in the economy lot – this means at least 13 emergency phones and a screen in each one,” chronicles Stone. “We staff our emergency phone answer center with customer service reps; so if someone has a flat tire, needs a jump start, or can’t find their car, (workers) are here to help on the emergency phones.”
The airport recently received great feedback when it had staff ready and waiting to dig customer vehicles out of the snow, she adds.
Time to Reassess?
At some airports, parking revenue is a star of the balance sheet and management continually looks for ways to hone offerings to maximize efficiency. At other locations, however, parking fees are taken for granted, and opportunities for enhancements are left on the table.
With constant pressure from corporate-branded off-airport competitors and new challenges from companies like Greenbee, airports across the country may want to take note of what other companies are offering their passengers. Now may be the time to shore up on-airport parking options and promotions.