Today I am presenting another written interview with Johnnie of Zadar Airport Transfers, an online airport transfer booking business based in Croatia.
Check out the interview:
- What got you interested in starting an airport transfer booking business? Share your story.
Well, that was a coincidence. For three years (at that time), I had one minivan/shuttle that was not air conditioned that was serving customers over their summer holidays in Croatia to transport them to all local places they wanted to go, making taxi excursions and similar trips, and, at that time, I was the only driver in my taxi company.
My main job (taxi transfers/excursion trips) supplier was an Italian guest-holiday resort in Croatia.
Due to my knowledge of the Italian language, I had the advantage of working with them at that time as the main taxi company. Not to mention, I didn’t get any airport transfers at that time, maybe a couple per season (yearly) but nothing worth mentioning.
I had my own language knowledge and the ability to convince customers to use more of my services from that particular holiday resort rather than having them only using taxi services to go the nearest city for shopping. So I would drive them to national parks in Croatia, historical cities, and even to some more distant (better) nightclubs during the night and wait for them there.
Everything was nice, until the holiday resort suddenly had to close down due to ownership changes, reconstructions, and redesigns. It was honestly my only real job provider of taxi transfers/excursion trips at that time, as the taxi transfers market already had many companies offering taxi transfers, shuttle transfers, airport transfers, and excursions in this tourist area (Dalmatian Coast in Croatia) with much better cars/minivans and buses than I could offer.
I desperately needed to find a solution for my problem so that I would not lose my job and survive in the holiday/travel market in Croatia.
The reason behind this is because that it is the main niche here, and everybody works at tourism and travel-related jobs, serving tourists and travelers. Our Croatian economy depends on tourism. If you live at the coast and don’t have a job that is related to tourism, you’re screwed.
Winters are very long here and hard to survive without work and making money.
Somehow, at that time, Zadar airport started introducing low-cost airlines like Ryan Air and Germanwings.
What I found out at that time was a game changer for me, and that was when I found out that all those customers only use internet booking for tickets and ticket reservations, which made me think, “If they reserve an airplane online, why wouldn’t they search for airport transfers or airport taxi cabs online?”
- How have you gone about finding new clients for your service? What’s working for you?
I have always been into computers as a hobby for music and video editing, but a very good friend of mine named Marko gave me some lessons and taught me how to build websites and where to search for more learning materials for handling applications and programs that are for website creation. So I started working on my new website as fast as I could. Believe me, at that time, I thought it was my unique idea in the World Wide Web. So I didn’t search for competitors or similar companies in the web; I was serving my own ideas for how the website should look. So what happened next was I created a dedicated online taxi transfer company website. Maybe the originality of my first website gave me the first good search engine results at that time. So the first online enquiries started coming in, and taxi bookings being reserved. After I realized that there are others (not many in Croatia and none in my area where Zadar airport was located), my first investment into my online company was paying for two different SEO courses and one SEO marketing tool that helps you when you are optimizing your website. The rest is history.
I became the number one online taxi provider in Croatia. Due to great search engine results, people contacted me for transfers all over Croatia, as it’s a country as big as a small city.
I was ranking high even for search terms (locations) that weren’t close to me.
I had three minibuses and one regular car at one moment, all air conditioned, of course.
- How does the internet and having a website help you build your client base?
It’s completely natural. If you are reliable and dependable, the word spreads very fast, and you get returning customers that recommend you to their friends and partners.
In terms of reliability, for example, if someone books us online, they are certain that there will be someone waiting for them at the airport terminal when they arrive, compared to some other competitors who will run for a better paid job if it arrives at the last minute rather than wait for one that was booked six months ago. It happens all the time, and it makes us the number one online transfer provider in Croatia.
It is even more important when people are flying back home, as some taxi companies don’t show up for the return trips because they received a better job at the last moment. We see this all the time, especially top season when there is more work than anybody could handle.
- What are some of the biggest challenges you face when running this type of business?
That’s not a tough question at all.
The most challenging part is keeping up with your new competitors, which find that the only way beating you is by lowering the prices and fares and sacrificing the quality of the service just to get more or all of the work they can take from you.
This looks like a never-ending loop because with each competitor that arrives online, it is getting worse. So I have decided in one moment to have a smaller fleet to cut costs but still provide the quality I was trying to serve from beginning.
Until now, I haven’t regretted that because there is so much work in the top season that we are not able to handle, but we have very good partnerships with other transportation companies that help us cover all our needs.
- What are your future plans for 2015 and beyond?
First, we have decided to provide free Wi-Fi hotspots in each vehicle. This way, customers can use the internet without worrying about roaming costs, which will be implemented/introduced by May 2015 (start of the new summer season).
Second, we are in the process of building an online booking system that will be able to make airport shuttle reservations on the fly. This way, customers will be able to pay by credit card and make the entire booking automatically without needing to communicate by email with us, though there are always people that prefer to email enquiries, book by email, and pay upon delivered service, and we love that, too.