For the past quarter-century, Abaser Limousine Services’ focus has remained identical to the foundation the company was first built upon: creating a luxurious, high-touch transportation experience for customers who expect the best and won’t settle for less.
It was an obvious direction and goal, as the Barcelona-based company’s founder and CEO Joseph Votano has been hard at work to first build up and then maintain his company’s reputation ever since the early days of starting up a business in his adopted home.
Votano was born in Italy but has lived in Spain for more than 45 years, and he uses his uniquely balanced perspectives of both a tourist’s wonder and a resident’s sense of belonging to his passengers’ advantage. Having first fallen in love with Barcelona as a visitor to the Head and Hearth of Catalonia, he knows how to help newcomers see the best his city has to offer through the lens of a local’s discerning eye—but still with respect to their Barcelona bucket lists.
Because while much of the luxury ground transportation industry is corporate-centric, Votano estimates that nearly 90 percent of the work Abaser does is catering to tourists with all kinds of backgrounds and needs. And with Barcelona ranking among the top-20 cities most visited by globe-trotting tourists, Abaser (which is a sort of acronym for “Automobile Barcelona Service”) has accepted quite the undertaking to satisfy a veritable melting pot of cultures, expectations, and travel purposes—though Votano thrives on the challenge, and, most of all, wants everyone to fall in love with his home, too.
“Barcelona is an amazing place,” Votano effuses. “You have all you need in one town: delicious gastronomy and wineries, incredible architecture and art, sunny weather, the best hospitals, sports, and experiences—just think of something, and you can find it here!”
Whether or not a visitor wishes to see the city by way of its best-kept secrets or its deservedly acclaimed highlights, Votano and the Abaser team know just how to create a one-of-a-kind city experience.
“Not all of our guests are visiting our city for conventional tourism—many of them are trying to find some special places or experiences beyond the usual sites,” he says, adding that quirky, cultural favorites like the Gaudí House-Museum, the 20-year residence of renowned architect Anton Gaudí that features items owned and designed by the Spanish prodigy, are staples of the tour itineraries his chauffeurs typically follow. “But the majority of those clients who are visiting us for the first time want a city tour of the most iconic places in Barcelona. We provide all types of city tours for all types of interests, as well as services for sports and special entertainment events.”
The typical Abaser passenger is a VIP, according to Votano, though treating each and every person in the company’s care with nothing less than the executive treatment is a given, regardless of their reason for riding with an Abaser chauffeur.
"Every day is a reward. But every day, all of the Abaser team is working hard—and because of them, I get to hear all of our satisfied clients’ comments and feedback.” – Joseph Votano, CEO of Abaser Limousine Services“We mainly work with five-star hotels, yacht companies, and private aviation companies, in addition to all kinds of private customers,” he explains. “All of them have a very high level of demand and they always want to feel special and at home when they come to us. That’s why we’re not just driving them: We also act as their concierge if they need services beyond traditional transportation.”
In short: If the client wants it, the client gets it.
To exemplify the standards that Abaser prides itself on, Votano cites a Hindu wedding for which his company provided the transportation and related services. The three-day, 1,000-guest event required the services of 60 dedicated vehicles, which had Votano seeking out the additional services of a supplementary fleet comprising the likes of Mercedes S- and V-classes, Bentleys, and luxury minicoaches.
But knowing how much his clients value the sense of exclusivity that Abaser brings to every job it puts its name on, Votano says that he found the challenge exhilarating and a testament to not only walking the walk but also talking the talk to go above and beyond for those who trust their special occasions, daily transportation needs, tourist experiences, and safety to Abaser.
“Pulling off events like that wedding is hard work, but it’s very satisfying work,” he says.
Corporate travelers are also a familiar sight in the historic city, as Barcelona has seen plenty of world-class conferences and expositions, ranging as far back as the 1888 Exposición Universal de Barcelona and 1929’s Barcelona International Exposition (Expo 1929) to the more modern Universal Forum of Cultures and the World Urban Forum, both in 2004, and the annual IBTM World meetings and events conference. The city’s trade fair institution, Fira de Barcelona, is the second largest exhibition center in Europe; its 400,000-square-meter (about 4.3M square feet) space hosts more than 50—and growing—national and international events each year.
And Abaser’s headquarters are both strategically and advantageously situated to put as much of the city at its clients’ fingertips as possible, since most jobs are relegated to providing decidedly local services. It’s so deliberately located, in fact, that it’s in the lobby of the five-star Hotel Arts—a convenience for guests and bonus luxury that heralds Abaser’s standards, to say nothing of its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, the namesake of a region attracting nearly one-third of the world’s tourists.
“Abaser is based in one of the most touristic cities in Spain—and the world—so we had to be strategically located close to the main attractions and most popular hotels,” Votano says. “Our chauffeurs can be at the airport or train station in 15 minutes, and we can be at the port within five minutes. We believe that the last-minute requests from our clients have to have a good response and, of course, we want to offer easy access to experiencing the best that the city and area has.”
The province of Barcelona is home to 4.8 million people, but its population swells to accommodate millions more in the annual visitors who flock to Spain’s most-visited metropolis. With a mild and warm climate befitting its Mediterranean nature (the yearly average is a balmy 65 degrees Fahrenheit), visitors can take advantage of the city’s coastal appeal just as readily as its wealth of cultural, historical, and entertainment offerings.
Barcelona dates back to pre-Roman civilization and so is unsurprisingly packed with historical monuments, but it also boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, hosts a thriving arts and fashion world, and offers an impassioned sports scene that includes stadiums from the 1992 Summer Olympics. It’s no wonder the 39-square-mile city found a way to accommodate more than 500 hotels for tourists eager to sample its wide array of highlights.
"Barcelona is an amazing place. You have all you need in one town: delicious gastronomy and wineries, incredible architecture and art, sunny weather, the best hospitals, sports, and experiences—just think of something, and you can find it here!” – Joseph VotanoAnd Votano says it’s a pleasure to help Abaser’s clients make their way through Barcelona, whatever their expectations are.
“Every day is a reward,” Votano says. “But every day, all of the Abaser team is working hard—and because of them, I get to hear our satisfied clients’ comments and feedback. It is an amazing feeling when you get a call or an email with compliments.”
In his quest to be the best, Votano has surrounded himself with a team he is proud of—and who share his perfectionist’s hunger and ambition. He is quick to credit each and every team member for Abaser’s continued success, though it has taken him much of the company’s history to assemble its current roster of dream-team key players.
“I look at the office staff and chauffeurs, and I feel that we are on top—but we never stop,” he says.
And in an industry where challenges are faced and bested on a near-constant basis, Votano believes that the biggest hurdles are easier to clear when you have the right people on your side. Alluding to his native roots, he cites one of history’s most famous—and powerful—Italians when it comes to his philosophy on what it takes to show up, assess the situation, and come out on top.
“The constant challenge is never stopping, always looking for something to improve. As Caesar said: ‘Veni, vidi, vici’—but you must have great people to help you to get to ‘vici.’ There are so many surprises that can make our work more difficult, but it’s our job to find the best solution for every client and every problem that needs to be solved,” he says. “So I always try to add more excellence to my team: It doesn’t matter what position we have open, if someone is motivated and loves giving our clients personal treatment, they will have a place with us.”
Which is why it’s difficult for Votano to single out just one team member as an integral part of a truly harmonious unit.
But he does acknowledge that his business partners Javier Valcarce Vazquez and José Enrique Cid Carrera “are exceptional managers” who are more than capable of running things in his stead, while his right-hand women Judit Sánchez Galvez, Noelia Luaces Rodriguez, and Ana Tikhonova lead the metaphorical symphony that makes him look like an expert conductor and orchestrator. The eight-person office staff works in tandem with the three-person leadership team to ensure the client experience is flawless, while the company’s three detailers ensure that each vehicle is equally as well tended-to.
"It’s easy to be the orchestra conductor if every musician knows how to play the instrument with excellence.” – Joseph Votano“I believe that each member of the Abaser team stands out for their efficiency and effectiveness: the office staff, administration and accounting, logistics, partners, and chauffeurs who are the face of all our work,” Votano says. “They work as one, with a complex and perfect synchrony that makes the experiences of working with our team smooth and easy. Everyone is committed and professional and always has a clear guideline of how to proceed in every situation. It’s easy to be the orchestra conductor if every musician knows how to play the instrument with excellence.”
Votano has personally trained Abaser’s approximately 30 full-time chauffeurs to ensure that they not only know how to deliver top-notch service but also can navigate Barcelona and the surrounding area with ease. But the hiring process begins with zeroing in on those traits that can’t be taught with on-the-road training—and fluency in the likes of Chinese, Arabic, Russian, or English is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Obviously, there is more to a great chauffeur than just speaking another language perfectly,” Votano explains. “It is important they have a pleasant demeanor in their day-to-day dealings with clients, are responsible, and know the map of the city like the backs of their hands”—the last of which helps in thwarting the headaches and delays that come with rush-hour volume, closed roads, and traffic restrictions, which are particular concerns within the city center.
Operating in a city as old as Barcelona presents enough unique challenges: The region’s infrastructure doesn’t always allow for easy transport and congested traffic patterns create the kind of snarls that are the stuff of logistic nightmares. Combine that with layers of regulations that require an intimate understanding how the region runs, and Votano says that it is absolutely necessary to have a well-trained driving staff behind the wheel.
The other half of the equation has been cultivating a fleet that meets his worldwide clients’ expectations, preserves Abaser’s image as upholding the highest luxury standards, and not only is capable of navigating Barcelona’s ancient roads but also adheres to the city’s strict regulations.
Twenty-two late-model vehicles are tasked with getting Abaser’s clients from point A to point B in safety and style, and none are more than three years old. Among them are the newly restyled Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series hybrids, Mercedes-Benz V-Class, minicoaches, Sprinter executive vans and minibuses, and Range Rover Vogues and Velars.
“Luxury, comfort, and technology are a must,” Votano says about deciding what vehicles to include in Abaser’s fleet. “We care more about quality over the quantity. We want to be unique, but we know what our customers expect.”
He adds that, in a world that is increasingly reliant upon technology, it’s important to surround himself with the best that the next generation has to offer to ensure that Abaser’s future includes delivering the digital experiences that his customers demand—and the efficiency that the business world does, too.
“I realize that we are in the New Media Age, driven by new technologies and new generations,” Votano says. “I try every day to keep myself informed about what’s new by talking with my partners, seeing how the market evolves, and surrounding myself with a young team bringing refreshing ideas.”
Teamwork and education go beyond the office. The past decade has been filled with Abaser learning the ropes of developing a strong affiliate program, which includes attending events like the Chauffeur Driven Show and joining the National Limousine Association—which not only allows the company to learn from transportation peers all over the globe but also showcases how ownership-minded and capable the Abaser team is on an international platform.
“I love collaborator programs: I’ve been attending international meetings for more than 10 years and working with other attendees, which I think is the best method to learn and update your practices in this industry,” Votano says. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is knowing how to delegate as an owner. For example, at the CD Show in Washington, D.C., last year, Judit and Noelia were there as Abaser Limousine Services’ representation. Everyone saw them working hard, and so did I—and it shows that they are onboard with Project Abaser.”
Learning how to delegate has both empowered the Abaser team and allowed Votano a chance to step back and enjoy the fruits of his labors—after all, Abaser has come a long way from relying solely on him to wear every hat. These days, he gets to spend a little less time developing his “family team” so he can focus on his own family, which includes his wife and two-year-old son. And while members of his extended “large and happy” family have passed through the doors of Abaser, though they’ve all gone on to follow their own ambitions leading them to different industries.
In his free time, Votano dabbles in numerous athletic endeavors, including long walks with his toddler, and still loves immersing himself in travel—including the endless appeal of discovering the region that still dazzles him 45 years later.
“There is simply no shortage of things to do in Barcelona,” he says. “I try to travel around, visit our beautiful places, and experience the great Mediterranean cuisine, which is at its best right here. The city has not only so many great restaurants, but also many more excellent historic places spread all over the province. And of course, I always bring my family with me so it is just one more way to spend time with them.”
But even though Votano is happy to give his team more room to grow and adopt an owner’s mentality, he is always ready to dive back into the day-to-day nitty-gritty of what it takes to “be different and be the best.”
“The most important thing is to be ready, always,” he advises. “In this business, and dealing with the clients like ours, sometimes even the owner has to put on a suit and get out there in a case of an emergency. I might not be a chauffeur, but I do not shy away from a challenge when my company and my team need me.”