Motorcoach tours on the upswing
By Glenn Swain
Branson, MO has become one of the largest entertainment cites in the U.S. with more than eight million people a year traveling to the city to see more than 100 ongoing entertainment shows. In 2011 Branson was one of TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Great Places for Families to Discover in the U.S.
Motorcoach charter company BVT America specializes in Branson tours.
“We are a fully escorted tour and sell pre-packaged tours through a distribution network of just under 1,000 travel agents,” says BVT America President Rob Jones. “Our motto is we do everything except kiss them on the ear and tuck them in bed at night. We currently pick folks up in Kansas City, which is four hours away, Springfield, which is an hour away and we pick up at the new Branson airport. The people who come to Kansas City typically come from long distances, where Springfield and Branson can sometimes be harder to get into because of the limited number of flights.”
Jones says because of word-of-mouth referrals, he does a great deal of business with people living in Hawaii.
“Our company has a great reputation in Hawaii,” Jones says. “Not long ago we had two sisters scheduled for a tour. They happened to mention the Branson trip to others at their church, and all of a sudden they had 30 people joining them.”
Jones uses Raytown, MO-based Sunset Tours for all of his motorcoach rentals. Although Jones books tours to Tennessee, Colorado, South Carolina and elsewhere, the majority of business comes from people flying in to visit the Branson’s various entertainment venues.
The key to steady business, Jones says, is recruiting good travel agents and having a good relationship with travel professionals.
“What people have come to expect from us is a deluxe package tour,” he says.
Like many motorcoach tour company owners, Jones is watching the upsurge in gas prices with great interest. He is hoping gas prices stabilize and fall, knowing that the recent uptick in motorcoach tour business could be reversed.
“The wild card is air prices,” Jones says. “If they start up that could impact business.”
Jones says BVT had a strong year in 2008, but in 2009 sales dipped.
“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.
“Our fall 2012 schedule is really booking up fast,” he says.