Gale Ellsworth spends most of her day connecting the dots, not in the traditional sense, but in a manner that will create a unified national network of members.
Ellsworth is president and CEO of Trailways, a member organization of 65 motorcoach operators in North America.
Trailways, founded in 1936, has undergone significant transformation over the past decade. In the mid-1990s, its membership dwindled to only two dozen companies that mainly provided scheduled-route service. “We realized that for the brand to survive we were going to have to become more diverse and inclusive,” said Ellsworth.
To that end, Trailways modified its bylaws and began to recruit tour and charter operators. The key, Ellsworth said, was to become more integrated . . . “so that we can offer the best connections to the traveling public whether they want to travel by coach, van or school bus. We want to provide service to airports and rail connections to cruises and air charters. Of course, group charters and scheduled-route service are still the primary market segment for Trailways.”
A focus on building industry alliances and partnerships has also helped Trailways extend its influence. Recently, the organization partnered with Costa Cruise Line, allowing Trailways members to sell cruise trips and keep 10% to 15% in per-person commissions. “Of course, if they’re selling transportation to the cruise departure point, they get that revenue as well,” Ellsworth said.
Expanding the network of members is one of Ellsworth’s primary goals. She spends some time every day on this task. Currently, she’s focusing on the Midwest to Far West. “I’m always talking to operators and suppliers to identify good companies,” she said. “Our board of directors also helps to identify good companies.”
To qualify for membership, a company needs to operate at least five full-sized motorcoaches. Members also need to be willing to obtain certification to transport military personnel for the Department of Defense. “Of our 65 members, 45 already are DOD certified,” Ellsworth said. “We’re going to give the rest of the team 18 months to obtain their certification.”
Ellsworth emphasizes the “team” aspect of Trailways. “Our members are like a team of football players,” she said. “They pull together if they’re troubled by anything. For example, if they have breakdowns, they know they can call one of their Trailways team partners and get some help.”
But team spirit is just one benefit of membership. The main allure is the Trailways brand name, Ellsworth said. Referrals are another benefit. “Not only does each team member refer business to other members, we also get a lot of charter requests at the national office, which we pass along to our companies in those areas,” she said.
Volume-discount purchasing is another member benefit. Not only can members have cooperative-buying power for coaches, but also for tires and insurance. “Lancer Insurance is a big supporter of Trailways, so we have a good program with them,” she said. “We also work with National Interstate.”
Trailways has been proactive in addressing security issues. In November 2003, it created a motorcoach and passenger security council that has put together a multifaceted program that employs hands-on training, videos and handouts for drivers and other employees. Trailways has also submitted a grant application with the Transportation Security Administration to test different types of security technology.
“There’s technology that will hopefully prevent anyone from bringing a bomb on the coach or putting it in the belly of the coach,” Ellsworth said. In addition, Trailways will hold a security summit near New York City in June. “One person from each company will learn about some of this new technology first-hand.”