“We want people to know that Puerto Rico is open for business,” says Driving Results Managing Director Arthur Messina.
Just 18 months after being devastated by the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the peer group facilitator and his wife/business partner Kathy have made it their mission to spread the word that the island has bounded back and is on its way to being better than ever. To help get the message across, Driving Results brought their two owners’ groups—Spinning Wheels and Wheels in Motion—to the Serafina Beach Hotel in San Juan for a pair of back-to-back meetings hosted by First Class Destination Solutions President & CEO Robert Rodriguez and Vice President & COO Michael Berrios from March 6-8 and then 11-13.
“Our message was that it’s time to pay it forward; it’s time to give back,” says Messina. “We brought money, people, and life to the island to let people know that Puerto Rico is making a comeback in a big way. It was Driving Results’ way of helping our friends in the industry, such as Robert and Michael at First Class, by bringing people to the island to show them support and love.”
Supporting Puerto Rico’s recovery has been a chief priority for the Messinas ever since Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017. Despite seeing the power of the storm firsthand—the couple was vacationing in St. Lucia as Maria was crossing the Caribbean—their primary concern was for First Class’ Rodriguez and Berrios, who are not only long-time clients but also close friends.
“Once communication was available, the first thing we did was reach out to them and ask ‘How do we help?’ Michael always said, ‘Don’t send money, just wait.’ He finally gave us the thumbs up and said, ‘We’re ready.’ My feeling is that even though Michael and Robert aren’t members of a Driving Results group, they are valued members of the chauffeured ground transportation community, so we decided we could help by bringing business to Puerto Rico,” says Messina.
"Home to the world’s second longest zipline rising 800 feet above the mountain range, ToroVerde gave operators a unique chance test their limits and conquer their fears."“Many of the members had never been to Puerto Rico before, so it was great to introduce them to it,” he adds. “Frankly, people tend to forget that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. That means that no passport is required. Plus, people speak English, your cellphone will work, there’s Wi-Fi everywhere, and the U.S. dollar is the currency.”
For the consecutive peer group meetings, the Messinas developed an agenda that not only offered his membership ample education and networking opportunities, but also a chance to experience Puerto Rico post-Maria. The group was encouraged to bring spouses and significant others along so that the attendees and guests would get to experience everything that the island has to offer, from its beaches and resorts to its rich history and culture.
So when the peer groups came to San Juan, meeting host First Class rolled out the proverbial red carpet for the groups’ members and guests. Rodriguez and Berrios even went as far as to herald the arrival of the groups on personalized billboards in the city.
Discover Puerto Rico
Both the Spinning Wheels and Wheels in Motion groups kicked off their respective meetings with two very special guest speakers, thanks to the connections of First Class Destinations. First, Puerto Rico Tourism Company Executive Director Carla Campos spoke to the groups about the island’s recovery efforts since Hurricane Maria, and her role as part of Puerto Rico’s government in reviving tourism. While the restoration of the island has been nothing short of miraculous—particularly in the face of the utter destruction that occurred 18 months prior—Campos said that there is still work to do, since many hotels and businesses still have yet to return.
In addition to discussing tourism on the island, Campos specified the wealth of business opportunities currently available in Puerto Rico as well as the accompanying, and always attractive, tax incentives offered there. Beyond tourism, Puerto Rico offers transportation operations a great deal of work through the many pharmaceutical companies based there.
Campos also introduced both groups to Karen Mojica, the director of engagement for Discover Puerto Rico, which acts as the island’s official destination marketing organization. With an optimistic view of Puerto Rico’s future, Mojica said that she sees a positive side to Maria’s devastation: The mainland public now has a concept of where Puerto Rico is located. Further, rebuilding the island and its resorts will ultimately make it a go-to destination.
"We brought money, people, and life to the island to let people know that Puerto Rico is making a comeback in a big way." - Arthur Messina, Managing Director of Driving Results“Our members were given a first-class opportunity by Robert and Michael at First Class Destinations. Having Carla and Karen come in was a very big deal. They’re responsible with everything you see happen with the island,” says Messina. “Carla is the top figure in charge of a $150M budget to promote the face that Puerto Rico is open again.”
Dollars and Sense
In addition to the presentation and Q&A from Campos and Mojica, the Spinning Wheels and Wheels in Motion meetings also offered their membership an educational program exclusive to each group. Sales and finances were a hot topic with Spinning Wheels throughout their stay. On their first day, the group took part in an animated roundtable forum that addressed the best way to onboard a salesperson. Day two was highlighted by part three of a continuing budgeting seminar presented by The LMC Group’s Director of Finance Jessica Boulerice. This latest installment of Budget Bootcamp had the operators prepare for the end of the fiscal year.
The red-hot topic of mergers and acquisitions was the focus of Wheels in Motion’s education. Industry business consultant and author Kenneth Lucci provided two days of insight relating to the complete process of buying and selling a luxury ground transportation company. The former owner of Ambassador Limousine in Tampa shared his personal experience of what he encountered when he sold his business. Chief among the topics Lucci covered were differentiating between being a buyer or a seller and the importance of valuing a business accurately. His presentation was met by raves from the Wheels in Motion operators, particularly those in the midst of pursuing an M&A.
“Ken Lucci’s presentation about M&A was enlightening,” says Nate Pippett of B-LineXpress. “There are a number of people in the group who are in that market now who were very intrigued, since they are right in the middle of tackling this stuff. B-Line acquired a company about a year and a half ago, and I wish I had the knowledge that I have today—but hindsight is 20/20. This session was very relevant.”
Also taking part in the Wheels in Motion meeting was Chauffeur Driven Publisher Chris Weiss, who gave the group a preview of the magazine’s Executive Retreat in Austin from May 5-8 as well as the CD Show in Boston on October 13-16. After Weiss provided the operators an update of industry news and events, he raffled a pass to the Austin Retreat, which was won by Nancy Vargas of DH2 Chauffeured Transportation.
Members Take Flight
While each of the groups concluded their respective first day with a memorable dinner on the beach under the stars at Isla Verde, their second day in Puerto Rico gave them an experience they will never forget. After a morning of education, the peer group attendees and their guests were whisked away from the coastline and into the mountains for a zipline excursion at ToroVerde Nature Adventure Park.
Home to the world’s second longest zipline rising 800 feet above the mountain range, ToroVerde gave operators a unique chance test their limits and conquer their fears.
“I asked the members, ‘Would you rather open a business or zipline?’ The majority of them said, ‘No question, open a business’,” says Messina. “They actually had a greater fear of ziplining than running a business. My theory was that they do more challenging and scary things on a daily basis that they take for granted. A bad business decision can cost you your home, livelihood, affect your family—that’s much scarier than any zipline.”
As executive vice president of Windy City Limousine & Bus and president of the Illinois Limousine & Bus Association, Tracy Raimer makes tough decisions every day—but when it came time to put on the harness for the ToroVerde Monster zipline, her knees were literally knocking.
"While each of the groups concluded their respective first day with a memorable dinner on the beach under the stars at Isla Verde, their second day in Puerto Rico gave them an experience they will never forget."“I must say the zipline adventure was amazing and am so grateful I didn’t chicken out, as I was very close to saying no way,” admits Raimer. “It was about 75 degrees and as they harnessed me up, I was literally freezing and my chin was shivering from fear. After the first two seconds of them releasing me, it was the most breathtaking experience I have yet to encounter.”
Vargas had similar reservations about taking part in the activity, but felt a huge sense of accomplishment after traversing the high wire. “I told all my friends [that I did the zipline] and no one believes me. It was so liberating and beautiful. I was praying all along the way, but it was truly a wonderful experience. I felt so good inside. Arthur made a good point that we’re out there every day making major decisions, so this was a piece of cake.”
Messina hopes that all the operators who took part in the zipline exercise—90 percent of the members in attendance—can ultimately use the experience to propel their business, since they realize that conquering the unknown is not impossible, whether it’s an outdoor adventure or entering the world of motorcoaches. Further, he says, the challenge brought members closer together.
“When we were making our way to the zipline platform, people started talking to other members, saying things like ‘You can do it’ or ‘I’ll be your partner.’ You see how people come together when facing their fears.”
A Taste of Puerto Rico
On their final day in Puerto Rico, each group eschewed the breakneck thrills of the zipline in favor of a laid-back tour through San Juan courtesy of First Class and their colleague David Riviera at I Got Tours PR. The tour provided a firsthand look at the unique architecture and natural beauty in San Juan along with a history lesson of the area. Messina says the tour gave the operators a look at the past, present, and future of Puerto Rico.
"The people of Puerto Rico were grateful. They couldn’t thank us enough for coming. We were overwhelmed by their gratitude. My heart is filled. I’m so glad we’re doing things for the people of Puerto Rico." - Arthur MessinaAfter their trip around the city, the operators were warmly welcomed to the First Class headquarters by Rodriguez and Berrios. The pair gave their guests a tour of the facility and did a presentation on the importance of emergency preparedness (a sample of their advice from the slide show can be found on pgs. 28 and 30). While most operators will never face the circumstances braved by the First Class executives, they nonetheless encouraged all the members to have emergency plans in place.
As much as Rodriguez and Berrios wanted emphasize the importance of being ready for an emergency, they also made sure their guests left Puerto Rico with a bit of local flavor. The pair arranged for local musicians to come in and play for their peers while paella was served with endless fresh mojitos. Rodriguez and Berrios successfully turned a site visit into a full-on party.
“I believe that First Class Destination Solutions has done a magnificent job,” raves Vargas. “When we went to their offices, they treated us like kings and queens. They were warm and welcoming and shared some great information in terms how they survived Maria. I’m just so proud of them and the work they’ve done. My heart warms up when I think of them.” New Wheels in Motion member Carlos Garcia of Carlos Transportation Service was also ecstatic about the hospitality the groups were shown. “The First Class guys did an excellent job sponsoring everything; it’s hard to do all that while you’re trying to run a business. But for them to take the time to greet us the way they did was extraordinary. Robert and his staff went above and beyond any expectations.”
With both meetings a huge success, Messina is thrilled to have given his groups the chance to help the rebounding island. “The people of Puerto Rico were grateful. They couldn’t thank us enough for coming. We were overwhelmed by their gratitude. My heart is filled. I’m so glad we’re doing things for the people of Puerto Rico.” [CD0419]