Tapping the International Traveler Influx

Posted on June 22, 2009 by Nicole Schlosser, Associate Editor - Also by this author

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[IMAGE]MET7Intl.jpg[/IMAGE]Recently, motorcoach tours for international travelers, primarily from Europe and Asia, have become more popular. Coach operators are discovering ways of reaping the benefits of this business, ranging from putting more emphasis on Internet sales, to partnering with third-party resellers and tour companies in other countries.

Another crucial step in getting international customers on coaches has been to understand the needs and cultural attitudes they have that may differ from domestic travelers.

Offering consolidation deals

Dale Moser, president and COO, Coach USA notes that since April, the operator started seeing a big pickup.

Taking advantage of this uptick, the operation has employed marketing techniques such as attending international tourism trade shows and enlisting international Internet providers and third-party resellers worldwide. "We've enhanced our Internet exposure and the ability to sell our products and services online with discounts. More and more people continue to go in that direction, so we put heavy emphasis into Web sales," says Moser.

The amount of budget devoted to these techniques varies. "We've put more emphasis this year on international as well as Website enhancement and selling than we have in the past. We've really diverted our budget a little more over to this. We're probably at about five to six percent of our operating expenses [being] allocated to marketing," says Moser. 

Coach USA is also working with third-party resellers, the equivalent of Europe and Asia's convention and visitors bureaus. They take customers from western European countries and Asia in large groups and try to move them throughout the world on different tours and promote different countries and cities in the U.S., based on what the consumer is looking for. "They're really a consolidator, and can guide people to us from the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Asia, etc., and then consolidate them and move them toward affiliates that provide high quality and value-added tours in the United States," adds Moser.

The most popular tours for these customers are both in New York City and in Chicago, and overseas visitors tend to buy multiple packages. On the New York City tours, travelers can buy a three-day pass to ride on Coach USA's open-top European double-deckers that feature narrated tours to Times Square, Wall Street, the United Nations Building, Central Park and Harlem. They can hop on and off at 26 different stops along the way. Combination tours are also available, stopping at points of interest including the Statue of Liberty in Ellis Island and the Empire State Building. Visitors can even take a high-speed cruise on the Hudson River, or an amphibious vehicle tour. Coach USA offers many of these consolidated package tours at a significant discount compared to buying them individually at the face value market price, at each location.

The average amount of time the international traveler spends on these tours is three days, Moser says. This may seem unusually short for the amount of ground covered, but, based on what Moser has observed, the international traveler from Europe or Asia is well-adjusted to vacationing, and can fit a lot in to a short amount of time. They are used to seeking out public transportation. "They're very comfortable, they know how to utilize it and get efficiencies out of it," says Moser. This could be their one trip to the U.S. in four or five years, and they maximize that opportunity, he adds.

The current dollar to pound comparison isn't too bad, he adds, but just six to nine months ago, visitors could get two for one, since the pound was worth more than two dollars in the U.S. "Last summer, the cities were packed with international travelers because our dollar was so weak. It has subsequently rebounded and now it's not quite as good a deal...but when it was two, people were coming here with empty suitcases, going shopping, and going home with twice as much in their suitcases as they had in the past. So, that [impacts] the traveler, too," says Moser.

Travelers taking more time

Earl Reed, general manager of the San Jose, Calif.-based Royal Coach Tours also sees more travelers from overseas visiting the U.S. "It's starting to increase and it seems like we're getting more and more as people are relaxing and starting to travel again over the past two years."

Reed agrees with Moser that most international travelers are already well-versed in using transit. "You [can] get on a bus and see all of Europe. So, when they come over here, [customers] know exactly what they want in a coach."

Royal Coach is a member of the International Motorcoach Group, and many travelers that go through IMG contact them when they're planning to visit the San Francisco Bay Area, mainly to Yosemite National Park.

However, Reed says, Royal Coach Tours has had a different experience in the way these customers like to travel: there's a slowdown in pace. Tourists are taking more time at landmarks. "It used to be they'd try to do a thousand things in one day. Now they're trying to get more quality out of their trip, instead of just saying, 'I've been here, here and here.' It's 'I've spent some time here...[they take] more relaxed trips," explains Reed.

He adds that, now, tourists in general are more educated on coach complements, the safety records, and the year of the coach.

 "I think when you have conferences like [those held by] IMG, the United Motorcoach Association (UMA), and the Motorcoach Council, it's putting more in front of people than TV, ads or Websites. I think everybody's putting more facts out and people are getting educated in the process," says Reed.

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