January 2007

Innovative Operator Profile: Image Built on Scottish Heritage

by Alex Roman - Also by this author

Wanting to develop a unique company image, Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Ambassatours played off of the region’s Celtic culture — Nova Scotia is Latin for New Scotland. Tour guides and directors began wearing kilts in 1987 as a way to celebrate the company’s heritage and provide a unique experience for its passengers.

“[Kilts] are not the easiest company uniform to have, with the cost and trying to get some staff to wear them, especially certain drivers who have worn pants all of their lives,” says Ambassatours President Dennis Campbell. “Once those guys try it and experience the feedback from clients, they never go back.”

The operation also incorporates Scottish themes into its group programs by adding bagpipers or step dancers for those who are interested. It can also turn the entire experience into a full-blown traditional Celtic party.

“We put on a program called the ‘Kilted Ceilidh,’ which is Gaelic for ‘party,’ where we kilt the men and pipe them into the rest of the group and then have the dancers perform,” explains Campbell. “This creates tremendous photo opportunities and has always been very well received by the guests.”

Aside from being known throughout Atlantic Canada as “the company with the kilts,” Ambassatours also added the region’s first executive coach to its fleet. The 27passenger conversion features the amenities of home, including a full galley, sofas, two flat-screen TVs and a premium sound system.

Campbell explains that the coach has been very well received in its first year of operation, especially by corporate golf groups who use it to host clients en route to tournaments.

“Our clients usually end up owning the tournaments,” he says, adding that the company is optimistic that the coach will attract even more business now that the word is officially out. They have also added three new Setra motorcoaches that will use the Mercedes logo to leverage the brand’s value.

Further enhancing the passenger experience, Ambassatours has been using GPS-automated audio entertainment systems on all of its “hop-on, hop-off” excursions, which enables it to deliver consistently engaging tours. It also gives tour guides a break by alleviating the need to repeat the same speech they’ve given countless times.

With any type of customer payment regulations yet to be established in Atlantic Canada, the operation established its own consumer protection plan to insure its customers’ deposits. Campbell explains the program has given them a competitive advantage over other local operators who have no program in place.

To help deal with the slow economy, Ambassatours completely revised its marketing budget, including allocating more money into Web search engine optimization, as well as face-to-face and telephone sales. Its reservations department is open seven days a week, 12 hours a day.

To be more cost effective, the company partners with other operators to consolidate tours that are undersold and would otherwise be canceled.

“Consolidating two half-full groups is much more effective and profitable than canceling a half-group,” says Campbell. “When you get many tour operators selling into one bus, you create a win-win for everybody involved.”

AT A GLANCE

Motorcoaches: 30, 15 double-deckers, 4 trolley coaches and 1 trolley bus

Fleet mix: Setra, MCI

Employees: 200-plus (peak season)

Drivers: 60 (peak season)

Year started: 1968

Service area: Atlantic Canada

Services offered: Charter, tour, athletic, cruise ship, sightseeing and destination management

Average annual mileage: 600,000

Annual ridership: 90,000-plus

President: Dennis Campbell


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