Management & Operations

Survive tough times with tenacity

Posted on January 1, 2003

It would be easy to bemoan the state of the motorcoach industry, based on the troubles of the past few years. September 11, of course, put an exclamation point to the challenges facing the operators of tour and charter buses. The result has been numerous cancellations, a slowdown in bookings, higher insurance rates, reduced equity on used equipment and tougher requirements for buying new equipment. The list could go on, but it’s already long and painful. Much of the pain has been generated from external and uncontrollable forces. Leisure travel, in general, has yet to recuperate from the terrorist attacks, but the tour and charter bus industry was especially hard hit because of its reliance on visitors from other states and overseas, the type of tourists who stayed home in droves after the September 2001 atrocities. Things don’t sound too good, do they? Plenty of bright spots But 2002 wasn’t all gloom and doom. As noted in our special feature on successful bus companies (“7 Most Innovative Motorcoach Operators”), some operators have found ways to survive — and thrive — during these challenging times. Some of the strategies applied by these companies include diversification of services, extra attention to driver hiring and training, addition of onboard technologies such as GPS tracking and Internet and e-mail connectivity, upgrading of the fleet, hiring an outside management consultant and computerization of the maintenance shop. That’s not to say, however, that their strategies will work for everyone. Successful operators know what their customers are looking for, which may not be a free connection to the Internet or gourmet coffee. In some ways, Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest comes into play. Those companies that properly adapt to shifting environmental challenges will survive to, er, procreate another day. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs of the industry are being forced into extinction. How do you avoid being a dinosaur? Look beyond yourself Use your head — and your feet. First, make grassroots connections within your community. Be proactive in developing relationships with people in your own backyard. If you haven’t already done this, get involved with the chamber of commerce, local service organizations and transportation groups. It goes without saying that you should join all local or state motorcoach associations. Do more than join, however. The best way to learn is to become an active participant, such as a committee or board member. When someone asks for volunteers, be the first person to raise your hand. Fortunately, the motorcoach industry has a couple of resource-intensive national associations that provide excellent support to their members. Anyone serious about succeeding as a tour and charter bus operator should belong to the American Bus Association (ABA) or United Motorcoach Association (UMA). Many companies belong to both. The ABA and UMA not only provide massive amounts of information about legislative matters, regulatory issues and operational and technical concerns, they also bring together their members for annual meetings that include robust educational programs as well as trade shows that features the latest products and services from the supplier community. All of these things go a long way to helping the motorcoach industry through tough times. But the buck always falls back on your desk, doesn’t it? Embrace every opportunity to improve yourself and your operation and maybe, just maybe, you won’t go the way of the dinosaur.

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