Blacklane officially opened its Middle East office in Dubai on November 27 last year, the company’s third outpost, after its headquarters in Berlin and its Asia-Pacific office in Singapore.
The premium mobility company has been expanding rapidly (three fold a year to be exact) since being co-founded by CEO Dr Jens Wohltorf in June 2012. It closed last year with 300 cities across 60 countries in its global portfolio.
The Dubai office of Blacklane was jointly inaugurated by a team from the Berlin-headquartered company, led by Dr Wohltorf and Nicolas Soucaille, head of Middle East and Africa for Blacklane, and investment partner Khaled Abdul Karim Al Fahim, board director of Alfahim Group and board member of Blacklane.
Hot on the heels of opening its regional headquarters in Dubai, Blacklane has been selected by Emirates as the exclusive provider for its chauffeur-drive services in ten cities across India, Italy and Sweden.
Blacklane has already been offering luxury transfers in Dubai for over five years now. In the coming months, the new regional office will focus on adding dozens of new cities on the Blacklane map across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, which is projected to be the fastest-growing market for Blacklane this year.
The company currently serves 21 cities in 10 MEA countries at the moment: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Beirut and Doha are among them as well as five key cities in Saudi Arabia.
“People living in the Gulf countries are appreciative of our premium, quality services - we are seeing a strong demand for our product from corporate and business travellers from the region. In fact, we experience twice as many requests for first-class bookings from Middle East guests than we do for customers from around the world. Guests often put in a request for the Mercedes S Class.”
Good suppliers are hard to come by in the region, says the co-founder and CEO. “Supply is very difficult to establish in the region, not just due to vehicle quality or the right brands and age of the car, but also due to the service mentality of the chauffeurs. We are constantly on the lookout for top quality suppliers around the region to expand our reach, as we sense this massive demand for the right kind of premium mobility in this region.”
When Blacklane first started six years ago, the main idea was to “take the stress out of travel. I was a frequent business traveller myself,” Dr Wohltorf tells TTN. “Flights and hotels were always easy to book, but ground transportation was never easy. So, I decided to change all that with a ground transportation product that would have global accessibility and availability.”
In January last year, the company raised a Series D round − from three investors, including Al Fahim − to fund product innovation and expansion of the product to new cities. The amount remains undisclosed.
“Alfahim Group is a proud investment partner for Blacklane. We have some commonalities, in that we both believe in quality. Blacklane works for a niche market; they have done quite well in our first year of investment. We are happy that Blacklane understands the importance of the region, the UAE and Dubai specifically, to open the regional office here. We see great potential in this partnership.”
Alfahim Group is the regional distributor for Mercedes cars, which Blacklane uses in its transfers – a marriage made in heaven. “We now have a premium quality service linked with our automobile business that helps travellers be a little less stressful and that ticks all the boxes for us,” says Al Fahim.
In line with the theme of taking stress out of travel, Blacklane also offers an airport concierge service on the back of its successful chauffer service model. As Dr Wohltorf says, “While we want to ensure you are comfortable on the road, we don’t want to lose our customers in the airport when the stresses of security, check-in and baggage drop, kick in. We want this airport concierge service to be available globally, as it ties in very nicely with our chauffer service. We want to take care of you from your doorstep to the gate of the aircraft.” Blacklane Pass, its concierge service reaches more than 500 airports worldwide.
Will people be willing to pay more to get a premium service though?
As Dr Wohltorf says, “We may be 20 per cent more expensive than what is available in the market, but our service is 200 times better.”
Dedicated agency product
BLACKLANE has a dedicated agency product, co-founder and CEO Dr Jens Wohltorf tells TTN. “Our agency business is one of the fastest-growing businesses within our company. We are integrated on Amadeus, available on GDS and are PNR connected. You can book Blacklane with a click of a button within Amadeus’s system.
“There is a standard commission of 10 per cent for every booking that comes in. It is very easy to register, nevertheless we have teams of people reaching out to regional agencies. We already have a lot of agents who are working with us in the Middle East. We were exhibiting at ATM last year and we made a lot of quality contacts there.”
Blacklane aims to be operating in Egypt and Morocco very soon, and is eagerly looking for quality suppliers as well. “We are constantly looking for new partners in the regions that we are currently not live in, but we are also looking for more footprint in the countries that we are already established in, like the UAE for example.”
Blacklane recently announced a partnership with Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, whereby Golden Circle Loyalty Programme members can earn points with Blacklane rides worldwide. A points-based partnership also exists with Miles & More, Europe’s largest traveller loyalty programme.
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