Ed Orkand of The Parking Spot On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Lead with excellent customer service: This seems obvious, but it is becoming more important than ever as hospitality is becoming de-personalized with things like Airbnb. Especially in an industry like airport parking, which is not historically known for service, great customer service is what will keep customers coming back. Our shuttle drivers are on the front lines daily and are at the core of our customer service, and that is obvious in the feedback we get from our customers.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Orkand of The Parking Spot.
Ed Orkand is the Senior Vice President of National Sales and Partnerships for The Parking Spot, where he oversees corporate travel partnerships, leisure programming, affinity partner programs, and distribution platforms. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Business Management and a Master of Business Administration from Columbus State University, and he is passionate about collaborative problem solving and innovative mobile technology.
At its core, The Parking Spot is the nation’s largest near-airport parking lot. However, it’s more than just a space to park your car. The company has been focused on hospitality from day one, and that became more obvious than ever during the pandemic. Those that continued to travel during COVID-19 did everything they could to minimize their risk of exposure during their trips, and for many, that meant forgoing rideshares to drive themselves to the airport. Now, many are making that change permanent due to the amenities and superior service they experienced. These include touchless entry and exit, advance reservations with easy modifications and cancellations, on-demand shuttle pick-up, and at some locations, valet parking and car washes. SVP Ed Orkand can share insight on how approaching management of a parking lot from a hospitality lens has created loyal customers even amidst a travel downturn.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After finishing business school, I interviewed with several companies, including a young airport parking startup called The Parking Spot. My time visiting the founding management team in Chicago sparked my interest. Their passion and excitement — not just for airport parking, but for building a new, innovative service for customers — was palpable and matched my desire to help build a brand and service that was both groundbreaking and purposeful.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
To me, a sweet spot in the business world is when you can crystalize partnerships in a fun and productive way. We’ve had the opportunity to do several different events and trade shows with AAA, including one at Universal Studios in Orlando. We were able to connect and foster new relationships with AAA partners and team members at a location that is an iconic travel destination. And it was pretty amazing to take over Universal Studios for a night!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Two memories come to mind. On my first work trip to Chicago, I was coming from Houston, where it was 70 degrees in January. In my light suit, I was extremely ill-prepared for Chicago winter weather! I needed to keep ducking in and out of buildings to warm up on my walk from the train to the Chicago office, and by the time I got to the office, my teeth were chattering, and I was shaking so uncontrollably that I wondered if I would even be able to have a conversation!
The second example is early on in my time with The Parking Spot: I did the classic and dreaded thing where I meant to respond to one person on a company-wide email, but instead hit ‘reply all.’ Back then, that lapse in email etiquette was more looked down on, so it was pretty awkward.
In both cases, I would say that the lesson is that everyone makes rookie mistakes, and it’s important to have a laugh and not take things so seriously. And to also support new employees when they make their inevitable rookie mistake!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
So many people have supported my career, but Thom Zak has been key to my growth and development. Thom was part of the original founding team of The Parking Spot, and he not only hired me, but he also invested time in me as someone new to the industry. Thom has an extensive, successful track record in the beverage industry, and he knows branding and sales so well. He was, and remains, an incredible mentor and influence in my life.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
It’s important to start by noting that the original business model for The Parking Spot was to ultimately create a hospitality service platform that served a new niche between the traditional model of airport economy parking with long wait times for shuttles, to the other extreme of closer terminal parking that was expensive but remained non-personal. From the start, great real estate near the airport, coupled with services like consistent shuttles, friendly staff, free bottles of water, and a loyalty program were innovative for leisure travelers and opened up opportunities for us to expand into working with business travelers. Our innovation was really the creation of a new segment in the parking industry that we have been able to build on over time. And, though we keep our superior service consistent, we continue to adapt by adding amenities that customers want, such as touchless entry and exit, car washing, EV charging stations, valet service, and more.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
At The Parking Spot, we’ve been industry-leading in our mobile app experience, which is serviced by proprietary software on the back end. Our ability to bridge the gap between an airport parking company and a tech company is a big part of how we can create an amazing customer experience that solves many of the modern pain points of air travel. For example, through real-time technology, we’ve been able to add shuttle tracking, giving travelers peace of mind that their ride back to their vehicle after their trip is on the way. We’ve also added things like reservation in/out privileges to meet the needs of the present-day travel experience.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
As travel has picked up, we are seeing behavioral shifts away from people using rideshare apps, toward people wanting to travel in their own personal vehicle. We’re also seeing longer trips and fluctuations in travel plans, so creating a better experience for long-term parkers — such as better reservation discounts for guests staying over a week — is crucial.
You are a “travel insider.” How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
My perfect vacation experience comes down to something I take seriously and encourage every traveler to think about: highly mobile planning. Download the apps for your airline, hotel, rental car company, and airport parking option, and take advantage of the mobile experience and loyalty benefits. The mobile experience has evolved to a place where you can, for example, check in or out of your hotel room without stopping at the front desk, or choose your vehicle from a rental car facility by heading straight to the lot instead of to a counter, all of which will leave you more time and space to enjoy your destination!
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
A big part of the wellness-driven experience is making it easy for people to get away and decompress. Airport parking is the bookend of the travel experience, and while it tends to be thought of as an ancillary, smaller component of the trip, it’s vital to start and end each trip experience on a positive note. Our attention to consistent, quality service — which includes drivers who can savvily navigate airport congestion, construction, and changes — provides a wellness-driven experience by helping travelers start and end their journeys on a positive, relaxed note.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Lead with excellent customer service: This seems obvious, but it is becoming more important than ever as hospitality is becoming de-personalized with things like Airbnb. Especially in an industry like airport parking, which is not historically known for service, great customer service is what will keep customers coming back. Our shuttle drivers are on the front lines daily and are at the core of our customer service, and that is obvious in the feedback we get from our customers.
- Incorporate technology: I know I keep mentioning this throughout our interview, but people want all service offerings in the palm of their hands, so it’s important to give them that and ensure it’s evolving to be responsive to the changing needs of customers. Our app started as an opportunity to easily make advanced reservations, and now we’ve added shuttle tracking, reservation management tools, and more.
- Reward people for their loyalty: Offering perks is a great way to keep guests coming back for more. This can be in the form of a loyalty program, like the Spot Club, which earns members free parking, or even on a smaller scale through promotions like the discounts we offer to guests who reserve in advance.
- Offer variety and personalization: Even in an airport parking lot, everyone’s needs are different. At the bare minimum, our customers all need a place to leave their car on a trip, but what we offer beyond the traditional airport parking is more than that. In select markets, EV drivers can return home to a fully charged vehicle; in other markets, busy parents can return to a freshly washed and detailed car, saving them precious time on the weekend. These offerings are what elevate brands above their competitors.
- Build partnerships with others in the industry: The travel industry is segmented, but a modern hospitality experience does not need to be. Building direct partnerships and technology integrations with outside industry partners helps create a holistic experience for customers. Plus, it’s a great way to acquire a new customer base through those partners.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
For me, it’s all about people. I have had the pleasure of connecting with so many people at The Parking Spot, and I also have served on different committees, boards, travel industry associations, and parking associations. Aside from the professional intersections, it’s important for me to connect at a personal level. For example, I served on the board of His Grace Foundation, an organization that provides physical, emotional, and financial support for patients and families in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit (BMTU) of Texas Children’s Hospital. Generally speaking, I have always believed that there is no job too small, whether it’s helping out our field team in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, or stepping in at any level of our organization. We are all part of something bigger as a community.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We are living in highly divisive times, and I think the time is ripe to create a movement that brings together people with different specializations, different career paths, different levels of experience, and different identities to put aside their differences and use their talents to collaborate and solve problems for the greater good. The scientific community excels at this, and I feel like the way they build organizations and communities to work together to cure a disease or improve treatment has so much to teach the business world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn is the best place to find me; I’m /edorkand. The Parking Spot can also be found at:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.
Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.
He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.
Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.