New Motorcoach Tech Helps Small Operators Compete with Industry Giants

Posted on September 10, 2018 by Harald Kruse - Also by this author

New tech on the scene means that even the smallest motorcoach operators will be able to easily get bookings from potential customers searching online – without investing tens of thousands of dollars in marketing. Photo: GCS Inc.
New tech on the scene means that even the smallest motorcoach operators will be able to easily get bookings from potential customers searching online – without investing tens of thousands of dollars in marketing. Photo: GCS Inc.
It’s no secret that tech has been slow to come to the group transportation industry. While online options for booking individual travel are about as old as the internet, booking group travel has largely remained onerous: searchers might have to visit dozens of websites, request quotes via phone, and wait a week or more to receive those quotes. This has especially been true for the motorcoach industry, which has lagged behind in technology.

But new tech on the scene means that even the smallest operators will be able to easily get bookings from potential customers searching online – without investing tens of thousands of dollars in marketing.

A Tech Solution for the 94 Percent?
According to the latest available numbers (from the Motorcoach Census of 2015), 93.7% of motorcoach companies have fewer than 25 vehicles. Just 0.7% of the industry is made up of the largest companies (those with 100 vehicles or more).

Put another way: there are 15,596 motorcoaches out there that belong to the smallest operators and 14,217 that belong to the largest.

Given the similar numbers, you’d expect customer rides to be almost evenly split between these groups.

But that’s not the case. In fact, according to the Census, large operators account for about 60% of passenger rides, while small operators handle just 18%.

One likely reason? It costs money to be found online. While small operators often don’t have funds to funnel toward marketing efforts, larger companies do. And that means customers searching for group travel on Google are more likely to find the big players than the small ones.

Online marketing funds are also a major contributor to the phenomenon of larger operators being more frequently sold out on busy weekends despite their greater supply of vehicles.

A session at last year’s Motorcoach Expo offered some insight into this problem, outlining ways small operators can make themselves visible online to compete with enterprise players. But that session drastically understated the cost of appearing in online search.

For example, the session asserted that search engine optimization (SEO), the strategy for showing up in unpaid Google results, is “free.” While it’s true that you can’t buy these results, it ignores the fact that the work of SEO requires the creation of content – and that today, the average salary for a content strategist in Chicago is more than $90,000.

Similarly, while the session characterized search engine marketing (SEM), or bidding to show up in paid Google results, as “inexpensive,” the reality is more complicated. Some of the terms operators would have to bid on (“Chicago bus rental,” for example) come with a cost per click north of $16. The high cost is partly because adding geographic limitations greatly increases the bids, and most vendors are inherently regional players. Those costs become unsustainable fast, especially when you’re bidding against companies with much deeper pockets.

In other words: small operators have little chance of competing with large motorcoach operations on traditional search engines like Google.

A Platform Where Small Operators Can Compete
That’s where Global Charter Services Inc., (GCS) enters the picture.

Earlier this year, GCS was formed when online group-travel booking platform BusBank, known for its customer service, acquired Buster, a fast-growing competitor with a smaller customer base but a more robust online platform. Thanks to the acquisition, group transit providers can now access the demand generated from both sites to get in front of the tens of thousands of customers who use the sites to search for group travel options.

This marks a major transformation for the industry:
Customers around the country now have two choices when they want to find a trusted group travel provider: search directly through the platform or get curated quotes from a BusBank representative. All vehicles in the shared system have top marks for inspection and care, and all operators have been vetted for safety through insurance credentials and DOT registration.

For their part, operators can now market efficiently through Buster and BusBank, because the sites can buy ads at scale, nationally.

Further, operators aren’t required to pay any listing fees. After joining either site, they simply enter fleet and pricing details, and the Buster platform uses this data to create a “market price” for trips that come in. When a trip becomes available, only operators with matching inventory in the relevant service area receive an email, which makes it easy for them to claim new business and increase revenue.

Notably, Buster and BusBank never disclose vendors’ fleet or pricing information to customers or competitors. This enables vendors who are eager to grow or who need to fill a revenue gap (say, because of the acquisition of a new vehicle that hasn't been marketed before) to list a lower price without fearing price retaliation or starting a price war.

The results: customers have access to an experience they’re familiar with from booking rental cars or plane tickets. Vendors have a streamlined, cost-effective way to be visible where potential customers are looking online. And group travel companies of all sizes can focus on competing on the quality of their services rather than the size of their marketing budgets.

Harald Kruse is CEO of group transportation booking platform Global Charter Services Inc., the newly combined entity comprising BusBank and Buster. 

View comments or post a comment on this story. (0 Comments)

More Transit Dispatches Blog Posts

November 14, 2018

How Smart Tech Can Help Boost Transit Fleet Reliability

Budgets for maintaining assets and vehicles are often strained, forcing managers to make difficult repair-or-replace decisions concerning ailing fleets.

November 1, 2018

ADA sensitivity training makes drivers MCTS' 'most valuable asset'

Storylines about Milwaukee County Transit System bus operators are always consistent, involving a driver going above and beyond their job description in order to help someone in need.

October 17, 2018

Securing Railways from Cyber Attacks

The risks to railways are well-documented and substantial, and many governments around the world have adopted an aggressive posture when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure.

October 14, 2018

Safeguarding Surveillance Data So You Don’t Fall Short of the Law

The continuous growth in use of video surveillance means new challenges for data storage, and as the role of CCTV grows increasingly important, it’s critical to manage and protect in the correct way.

September 25, 2018

3 Lessons from Transit in Switzerland

I recently traveled to Switzerland to see the world’s first autonomous shuttle in operation on regular fixed-route public transportation in mixed traffic and came home with three lessons.

See More

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (0)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment


Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation