Management & Operations

Optimizing Websites Opens Worlds of Opportunity for Motorcoach Operators

Posted on June 26, 2008 by Nicole Schlosser, Assistant Editor - Also by this author

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Websites can open up a vast new world of marketing opportunities for motorcoach companies. The ever-increasing amount of customers making travel purchases online is driving the application of more Website advances.


Motorcoach operators choosing to create Websites have had to constantly keep up with changes, and make key decisions on how to maximize the benefits of their sites, while fitting the necessary maintenance into their busy schedules and the marketing costs into their budgets. Throughout the process, some operators have discovered the best ways to utilize a company Website and transform it into an indispensable tool for their customers.


Creating customer convenience

Ferndale, Wash.-based Bellair Charters, which developed its company Website ten years ago, recently upgraded from an HTML system to <b>Plone</b>, a content management system (CMS). The new CMS enables them to add customer-oriented tools to the site, including a search bar, events calendar and up-to-the-minute updates on their airport shuttle service schedule. “We definitely knew we needed a search bar on the site, because [as it grew], it was getting a bit complicated for people to find what they needed,” says Joel Litwin, marketing representative.


Plone also allows multiple users to add or change site content, which makes it easy for the company dispatch department to update its Airporter shuttle schedule.


Bellair also plans on adding a reservations button to each Web page, instead of select pages, so that customers can make a reservation at any point of their site visit. “The whole idea is just to make it easy for people to get what they want, so they don’t have to spend a lot of time searching,” Litwin says. “My philosophy is, people [using] the Internet just want to get to where they need to go, and get out. Make it as easy as possible for them to do that.”


After getting their Website up and running six years ago, Kalamazoo, Mich.-based B&W Charters saw results right away, and has continued to increase business. “We used to get five quotes a day, maybe up to five, now we usually get 15 or more,” says Gene Wright II, director of marketing.


The company’s first Website was made up of only four pages using an HTML script. It has since evolved into several pages, with links to their partners and a request-for-quote feature. Now a more sophisticated site, it is designed to maneuver the customer to the quote request page, features specific pages for travel agents, and event and convention planners.


The initial site for Nashville, Tenn.-based Anchor Trailways was created in two days, and was originally in a FrontPage format. The current revisions have taken considerably longer, and this time, the company is working with a Web development company to optimize the site’s capabilities.


Traffic is good, reports Mark Szyperski, Anchor Trailways’ director of business development, and the impact on business, due to having a Website, was immediate. The feedback the operator has received shows more and more customers are coming to them through the Internet, and fewer are finding them through the Yellow Pages. “Word of mouth is still almost the number one way people find us, but now it’s followed up more by the Internet, so we’re cutting back on Yellow Page advertising,” he says.


Web-savvy market

Having a company Website can mean more to a business than just providing a convenience for customers to find a motorcoach operator and request charter service. It can also act as a crucial tool for tapping into a growing customer base: those that no longer use the phone, and rely primarily on the Internet and e-mail for business.


“[These customers] go to your Website, request a quote and you e-mail them back. Until you get to the point of doing the charter and needing to talk to them and get more details, [many] would still prefer that you e-mail them,” says Barry Saxton, general manager, Grace Coach Lines. “Unless you understand that, you’re missing some business because there are people that are only going to do business based on the Website and e-mail. That’s the customer you’re attracting by having a Website.”


Because there is still a segment of the population that does not use the Internet, some operators are not doing away with other marketing initiatives like print ads in the Yellow Pages or local newspapers just yet. “A lot of the older population use buses to get to the casinos here, because they can get package [deals]. Not a lot of them get online,” says Wright. He adds that they still publish ads in magazines that target the senior market.


 

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