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By Tucker Johnson

In 2017, CNN reported that Uber passed Starbucks as the most common expense for a business traveler. When I read that article last year I remember thinking it seemed unbelievable, since I had only used Uber a handful of times.  I hadn’t thought much about that article until a few days ago.  That’s when one of my students (who drives for Uber) mentioned that he earned almost $700 dollars over the weekend driving in San Antonio during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.

Although the money was an impressive part of the story, what really fascinated me was the access he was able to obtain by having the Uber emblem on his windshield.  He said police would waive his car through while at the same time turning away traditional taxis.  He could easily get in and out of densely populated parking lots and events, while others could not gain access.  I could immediately see the value in becoming an Uber driver.

When I was a hotel corporate travel sales manager I would do anything I could to get business. One of the things I used to do was follow competing hotels’ shuttles in the morning to see where they were dropping off guests.  I would then call on those companies.  Sometimes I just picked some guests that looked like they were dressed professionally and followed their cars.  These strategies would work often and were a good use of my time.

If I was in sales now, I would sign up to drive with Uber.  I would just sit in the vicinity of my competition at 7:30am on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  As an Uber driver, instead of following shuttles or cars, I could pick up the guests and take them to their destination.  On the way I could uncover information about how long they usually stay and how they book their reservations.  I would either get leads, and get paid by Uber, or drive someone unrelated to the hotel but still get paid by Uber.

I would also utilize the same strategy at large corporate offices. There are many locations that are secure, but will let Uber drivers in.  If you have a large headquarters or office park close to your hotel you could turn on your Uber at 4:45pm and park close by.  The people likely to need Uber rides from an office at 4:45pm on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday would have a very high likelihood of being out-of town business travelers.

In addition to focusing on my competition and large offices I would “deputize” my front desk agents.  I’d ask them to work Uber and offer to pay them for referrals for corporate business.  Since a traditional front desk day shift is 7:00am until 3:00pm a front desk agent would be in a great position to clock out and take their car over to a large office park and see if they could pick up an out-of-town corporate traveler.  The night auditor, who works from 11:00pm until 7:00am, would be the perfect person to do a little Uber driving in the competition’s vicinity after their shift.  Worst case scenario all these front desk agents still make money from Uber.

As the times and technologies change, salespeople must change as well. Uber’s access to corporate travelers is a valuable asset.  Uber’s access to secure or restricted locations is a valuable asset.  To not utilize these seem like missed opportunities, especially since Uber is paying you.  I wouldn’t follow my opportunities; I would drive them. 

About Tucker Johnson

After nearly 20 years working in food and beverage and hotel sales, Tucker Johnson is now an Instructional Assistant Professor with the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management-San Antonio. He received his BS in Hotel Administration from Cornell University and MHA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Contact: Tucker Johnson

tajohns5@Central.UH.EDU / 713-743-7604

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