An industry staple is alive and well
By David Hubbard
Chartered motorcoach tours remain a major component in the mix of services that operators provide. Motorcoaches exist in the first place for people to load up a group and go somewhere for fun and entertainment, or educational purposes. I think what may look like declining interest in this industry staple over the last several years is actually a state of change. It will just take some creative thinking to grow the numbers.
New travel patterns have emerged and a new paradigm for vacation by coach calls for operators to scrutinize evolving market trends, respond to new shifts in demographics, and plan diligently in the present state of the economy.
From his perspective as President of International Motorcoach Group (IMG), Steve Klika sees the travel tour segment becoming tougher to manage. From what the IMG stakeholders tell him, advance planning and securing commitments from travel suppliers such as hotels and restaurants have become increasingly more difficult. While there are coach owners and tour operators who enjoy success with the traditional tour models, Klika points to many operators who are finding new ways to meet the needs of newer niche markets.
Where motorcoach tour operations have traditionally focused on older travelers, he says forward thinking companies are building relationships with affinity groups to develop travel opportunities based on their very specific interests. He cites wine clubs and golf groups that understand the benefits of coach travel.
Maxime Boissonneault of AutoCar Excellence, Levis, QB, Canada, attributes the decline in extended long-distance coach tours to the emergence of affordable air travel, as well as the trend over the last 15 years of travelers moving about more independently.
“We will probably get these people back, but at a later time,” says Boissonneault. “Our older travelers use to be people in their 60s. Today, this age group is more lively and independent. We think this group will again rely on coach travel when they are in their 70s and no longer care to drive.”
On the other end of the age spectrum, Boissonneault says that in spite of the poor economy the student travel market has not wavered.
“If anything, students are traveling more now than they used to,” he says. “Of course, the end of the school year, May and June, is peak season for student coach tours throughout eastern Canada and major cities in the U.S.”
Klika concurs. It is not always about the older set.
“Destinations that cater to motorcoach tours are getting the picture,” he says. “For example, Branson is doing more to attract Baby Boomers by booking concerts by popular musical groups of their generation, and marketing the livelier venue to savvy tour operators.”
From his position as chairman of the international consortium, Global Passenger Network, Klika says international travel provides a myriad of opportunities for coach and tour operators.
“With the tight economy and currency exchange rates what they are, people with some discretionary funds are choosing to travel in Europe,” he says. “This is creating opportunities for coach operators to work with partnering tour operations who have domestic and international packages already in place. By buying into existing tours instead of creating their own, they only have to sell them to their clientele.”
Boissonneault says Autocar Excellence has always relied heavily on international markets.
“A few years ago French tourists were filling our coaches,” he says. “Mexico was a big market until Canada imposed stricter visa requirements, and now we are seeing a greater number of Chinese tourists.”
The basic desire to move about the planet has not changed. It seems as one market fades, another emerges. From what I am hearing, the changes are not all due to the economy. There are ample opportunities to usher travelers the world over into what could easily be a new age of the motorcoach tour.