National Trails Maintains Growth, Optimizes Charter Management During COVID-19

Austin Arksey is the owner of National Trails, a Michigan-based charter and tour company in operation since 1982. When he purchased the company in March 2019, Arksey said that the company had nine drivers, one office employee, and one mechanic. Today, National Trails employs almost 100 people, with 13 full-sized motorcoaches and 31 school buses on the road.

“Even during the pandemic, we have actually seen growth – which is a pretty unique situation,” Arksey said.

Arksey said that when he came onboard to National Trails, charters were managed via handwritten or typewritten messages being physically handed to drivers. One of the first initiatives the company undertook was digitizing these many processes, and that meant migrating the manual charter-booking into busHive. 

busHive provides cloud-based software to streamline workflows and recordkeeping across the entire charter process – from the initial quote to confirmations, contracts, generating driver itineraries, billing, and invoicing. National Trails uses the software to manage its sales, billing, and payroll – with reporting that shows revenue per vehicle, profit/loss analysis, and other important benchmarking tools.

“I had a longstanding relationship with busHive, having used the software at my previous employer,” Arksey said. “Integrating digital charter booking was one of the first changes we made after purchasing the company. If you can use a computer, you can use busHive.”

Arksey said that busHive was instrumental in allowing National Trails to understand coach availabilities quickly and easily at any given time – not only from the perspective of asset utilization, but also driver utilization.

Working in “the Cloud” During COVID

When COVID-19 struck the motorcoach industry, National Trails – like many other companies – received numerous trip cancelations, and closed its offices as a safety measure. The cloud-based nature of busHive allowed office staff to seamlessly begin working from home, which was vital when Michigan implemented statewide anti-COVID protocols for non-essential businesses.

“The system allowed us to track our COVID losses,” Arksey said. “As trips started canceling, we were able to maintain our client list and follow up with each cancellation. In many cases we were able to reschedule or postpone trips, as opposed to canceling outright.”

“It also helped us understand deposits and refunds very simply,” he continued. “Without a system like busHive during COVID, it would be a nightmare to keep track of who paid, who did not, and who needed a refund.”

Even before COVID, Arksey said, busHive’s cloud-based system allows National Trails to forego paying for an onsite server. In the event of a fire or some other major disaster, the company will not lose a beat in booking charters or managing reservations.

Preventative Maintenance

During the pandemic, National Trails retained all its mechanics and prioritized preventative maintenance (PM) on all its equipment. All work orders are loaded into busHive, allowing the company to ensure that PM orders process correctly and that inventory is properly maintained.

“We set inventory thresholds,” Arksey said. “If we want to always have four oil filters on our shelves, for example, then busHive alerts us whenever we fall below that number. That saves us many manhours, which used to be spent manually counting inventory.”

Driver Management

Arksey said that busHive was instrumental in helping National Trails keep track of driver credentials and expiring licenses during the pandemic. In some cases, drivers were kept off the road for up to six months. The automated system allowed management to see when items like medical cards were expiring, so the company could then alert that driver regarding any issues.

“As society has continued to open back up, that driver management tool has allowed us to maintain certifications without having any lapse in downtime for drivers,” he said. “We have been able to keep track of everything, and now the drivers are ready to go when we call upon them.”

Maintaining the system

Arksey said he feels extremely comfortable with utilizing the busHive charter system as National Trails continues to grow, citing the great support network which the company provides.

“It is a very simple system to use, and very user-friendly,” Arksey added. “If we run into challenges, busHive’s support team is very responsive. If they do not have an answer right away, they follow up quickly so that we can resolve our issues.”