[IMAGE]gulf.jpg[/IMAGE]Although its business was impacted by the Gulf oil spill, Ocean Springs, Miss.-based Vision Tours not only kept going, it also rallied other motorcoach operators to assist in the cleanup efforts.
"While we have seen a reduced amount of calls for local family reunions and airport transfers, I would not call the oil spill impact negative. We are extremely busy during what is historically a slow period and, [in] this economy, would have been even slower," said Mary LaCour, office manager and tour director, Vision Tours LLC.
Ocean Springs, Miss., located in Jackson County, is a coastal city. The local community and barrier island beaches have been affected by the spill. Vision Tours motorcoaches transported cleanup workers in the three coastal Mississippi counties: Jackson, Harrison and Hancock.
Vision Tours and Hammond, La.'s Gaten's Adventures Unlimited LLC, in particular, have had a working relationship for several years prior to the oil spill. "We run the same equipment, so the customer is receiving the same ride they would on our coaches. When the call came for additional equipment, we turned to companies we had a working relationship with," LaCour said.
The first step Vision took was to rally the members of the South Central Motorcoach Association (SCMA) for assistance. In addition to Gaten's, those that answered the call to help included Ridgeland, Miss.-based Cline Tours, Bus Supply Charters in McComb, Miss., and New Orleans' Starcoach. LaCour also brought a local company onboard that Vision already had a working relationship with - Golden Gulf in Biloxi, Miss., and a former employee of theirs at Mobile, Ala.-based Fantastic Tours.
Since mid-May, Vision and the other contracted carriers have been transporting oil crews from staging sites to job sites or training locations. Demands have ranged from needing one coach to as many as 36 coaches a day. "We have multiple contracts we are working. They all require the buses to be air-conditioned; some require the coaches to have restrooms on board. When on the job site, the motorcoach is also used as a safe haven in the event of bad weather or as a comfort station on hot days. The heat index during the summer is typically above 100 degrees Fahrenheit," LaCour explained.
To accommodate the cleanup work, Vision added four drivers, two cleaning crew members and one Prevost H3-45. Its fleet now consists of nine motorcoaches. The shop has also seen an increase in service work for coaches coming in from all over the country that are also contracted for oil spill cleanup transportation.
In fact, the biggest challenge for Vision has been to become a 24-hour shop to handle the influx. The shop foreman is receiving service calls and performing routine maintenance on these vehicles in addition to the carrier's fleet.
"With all the buses rolling seven days a week, our maintenance crew had to step up their game. The crew is changing their day to include evening hours so they can continue normal service and maintenance on our coaches," LaCour said.
One of the obvious benefits is the steady work for Vision's drivers and cleaning crew. Additionally, LaCour said, strengthening relationships with other motorcoach companies is helpful. "You never know when you are going to need to call on one of them in an emergency. If you have already built that relationship, you have confidence in their ability and service."
Since none of the contracts that Vision and the other coach operators are working on have a definite ending date, they will continue to work together at maximum capacity. "When we ask the companies we are working for how long they anticipate the work, they don't have an answer," LaCour said.