When ExecConnect America was launched last July, a new era in business travel was started. At least, that was the plan. Less than a year later, on Feb. 28, the luxury bus service that traveled between Pittsburgh and Cleveland was shut down.
Doug Anderson, president of Anderson Coach and Tours in Greenville, Pa., and Dale Bunce, president of International Market Development in Aiken, S.C., saw the venture as a positive way to expand the business travel marketplace.
In partnership with Anderson Coach and Tours, ExecConnect operated four times daily and consisted of three high-luxury and equally high-technology motorcoaches. The 27-seat buses were outfitted with wide leather seats, free Internet and e-mail connections, personal laptop power ports, an eight-channel audio system, satellite television and two four-person meeting areas. An onboard attendant was also readily available to address passengers’ needs.
“The service was built around the business traveler,” Anderson said. “The reason behind the Internet connections and meeting areas was to promote productivity while traveling.”
However, everything that at one point seemed so promising instead turned out to be problematic. The number of travelers between the two cities appeared to be fairly healthy and steady. Many would drive the 173 miles from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to take advantage of cheaper airfares. Large corporate headquarters are located in the Cleveland area, making ExecConnect’s target demographic of businessmen and women an apparent cinch to capture.
Instead, the customers the service attracted never managed to grow outside of that core group.
“We initially felt there was enough travel occurring between the two cities,” Anderson said. “If our buses were half full, we’d still be running. But it was considerably less than that.”
A lack of ridership is enough to cripple any shuttle service, regardless of whether first-class or coach-style accommodations are provided. And although both cities are bustling metropolitan areas with many prospective clients, size eventually became a burden. For example, Cleveland is roughly 60 miles across and finding a location where passengers might use a bus service for travel within such a large area did not seem practical. Also, travel was more one-sided than expected, with at least two-thirds of the travelers being from Pittsburgh headed toward Cleveland.
When a project fails, dozen of factors seem to be on hand to explain what went wrong. But this does not mean ExecConnect is a lost hope.
“ExecConnect was a challenging innovation for the industry,” Anderson said. “I don’t have any regrets. The industry needs to either collectively or individually try to expand the marketplace, and that’s really what we were trying to accomplish.”