Hopeful Branson tour operator watching gas prices

By Glenn Swain

Like many motorcoach tour company owners, Rob Jones is watching the upsurge in gas prices with great interest. Jones is president of BVT America, a tour company based in Branson, MO, one of the largest entertainment cities in the U.S. Branson currently has 106 ongoing shows. Jones is hoping gas prices stabilize and fall, knowing that the recent uptick in motorcoach tour business could be reversed.

“The wild card will be air prices,” Jones says. “If they start up that could impact business.”

BVT America is a fully escorted tour company that sells pre-packaged tours through a distribution network of just under 1,000 travel agents. Jones uses Raytown, MO-based Sunset Tours for all of his motorcoach rentals. Although Jones books tours to Tennessee and Colorado, the majority of business comes from people flying into Kansas City and smaller airports nearby to spend time in Branson. A bulk of Jones’ business comes from Hawaii, which he simply attributes to word-of-mouth referrals and not advertising.

Jones says BVT had a strong year in 2008, but in 2009 sales dipped.

“But we bottomed out in 2010,” he says. “At that time we were down almost 40 percent. We always have a pretty good feel for what’s going on if we go to a Branson theater. The Shoji Tabuchi Show is always sold out, and when the theater is sitting there at 60 percent capacity, you know it’s the industry as a whole. In 2010 we saw a lot of the same thing.”

Jones says his tours saw a rebound in numbers in 2011, and he expects an even better year this year.

“We’ll definitely be up from what we were in 2011. Our Fall schedule is really booking up fast.”

One unique group can sometimes spell trouble for Jones and his tour business.

“We deal with senior citizens, and we’ve learned over the last few years that scare tactics in Congress have an impact on how things ebb and flow within our business,” he says. “Last summer the conversation was that seniors may not get your Social Security checks because the government might be out of money, they may cut Medicare, and it all has an affect. For two months the phones were pretty quiet. But once Congress got passed that, then the phones rang off the walls.”