Based in Berlin, and with hubs located in major cities across Australia, the U.S. and UAE, chauffeur app Blacklane is one of the transport industry’s biggest success stories. The company, which has raised $77 million in investment in 2018, provides a streamlined way to connect chauffeur services with customers. Modernizing the legacy chauffeur industry was a niche identified by co-founders Jens Wohltorf and Frank Steuer, who set out to build a product that would make the process of booking chauffeurs easy, global and efficient.
While the company saw healthy growth in 2019 alongside a sleek rebrand, the 2020 pandemic hit Blacklane—along the rest the travel industry—hard, as flights and movement of people ground to a halt.
Red Herring spoke to global communications manager Adam Parken about how the company has reworked their 2020 strategy to accommodate the drastic changes to the industry, and how they plan to move forward.
Red Herring: How did you adapt your business model and strategy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic? If so, what has changed?
Adam Parken: Blacklane’s business model of providing high-quality, consistent and safe chauffeured rides around the world remains strong. We have not changed our business model, but we did make important updates to our service and accelerated some long-term plans.
For example, we implemented even stronger health and safety measures to protect guests and chauffeurs. Chauffeurs thoroughly sanitize vehicles after each ride. They offer guests a slight bow rather than a handshake. They also wear masks and offer a mask to guests if they don’t have one.
One product change was focusing on long-distance rides. The average distance of our rides has more than doubled during the crisis, showing that people are taking Blacklane rather than short-haul flights and train trips. We improved our long-distance fares and are marketing these rides so all our guests know they can have a private, safe space for longer distances.
Was Blacklane prepared for the switch to work-from-home? What were the challenges you faced?
We had the infrastructure for the switch and we supported home office work before the pandemic. The biggest challenge was moving our 24/7 Customer Care team to their homes. This group works very collaboratively to solve guest and chauffeur concerns, so going remote was a cultural change. But our IT infrastructure, messenger software and team spirit made it as smooth as we hoped, with no interruptions.
If you lost business during the pandemic, how are you planning on rebuilding trust and getting customers back on the road?
Every travel company lost significant business from local, national and international travel restrictions. Blacklane is in a great spot to recover because our business has always been about pristine cleanliness, top service and peace of mind. We extended our sanitization measures, and our chauffeurs will continue to go the extra mile to put travelers at ease.
We see ride growth each week as governments allow more travel and some business travel resumes. We also expect that many travelers who previously rode in taxis and ride-hailing vehicles will switch to chauffeured rides for extra safety and sanitization.
We are continuing our sustainability initiatives, too. With a reset in global travel, many companies and individual travelers will choose transportation that has the least impact on the environment. We offset the carbon emissions from all rides globally, as well as our emissions from company operations.
What are your thoughts on the future of travel?
The coronavirus crisis is a painful shock to the travel ecosystem. But the long-term future of travel remains bright for business and leisure travel.
All travel segments will create a new normal that protects guests and workers. We will all adjust to these new practices, and guests will choose the companies that preserve high service with peace of mind, while still protecting the planet.
How do you feel about Blacklane’s future growth today?
We are very confident about Blacklane’s future. Flyers will want to maintain the same high standards of cleanliness that airports and aircraft now use. Many travelers will replace short flights and train trips with a Blacklane to avoid crowds and schedule rides exactly when they want to travel.