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[IMAGE]MET11umaexpo-tampa-2.jpg[/IMAGE]The theme of the 2011 United Motorcoach Association (UMA) Expo, to be held January 19 to 23 in Tampa, Fla., is "Refocus, Redefine and Reinvent," says UMA President/CEO Victor S. Parra. "It's a completely different approach from what we've done in the past and that's because this is a unique time," he explains. "I don't think our industry's ever experienced a period in which there is so much uncertainty going forward."
This uncertainty — attached to the weak economy, housing crisis and slow job market —has caused consumers to hold on to their cash, which in turn impacts the charter and tour business and its reliance on discretionary spending.
While some U.S. businesses may see it as a time to hunker down and wait it out, Parra says operators should instead start thinking ahead and making decisions now that will positively impact the future.
"We're going to arm them with information, intelligence and ideas so that when they leave, they can take action," Parra says. "We want them to walk away saying, 'I don't know what the future is, but I've got some pretty good information to help me make an intelligent business decision about how I go forward.'"
New for 2011
This outlook has manifested several changes to the Expo, Parra says, including expansion of the Expo floor to include used and refurbished buses, in addition to the new models on display. "We realized that some people may not be in a position or may not be comfortable making that $500,000 investment on a new piece of equipment," he says.
"You'll see some new players on the floor and some new speakers on our convention program, because the topics require a new perspective and new players," Parra says.
To aid operators who haven't yet made the decision to purchase new vehicles equipped with 2010 engines, UMA is planning a session in which those who have can share their experiences and reveal "the good, the bad and the ugly," as Parra puts it.
UMA has been working with the National Tour Association (NTA), not only to bring a broader perspective of the industry from the other side of the business, Parra says, but also because the two associations will be co-locating their conventions in Orlando, Fla., in 2013. At this upcoming edition of the UMA Expo, NTA will bring hotel, attractions and destinations suppliers to a general session to discuss current issues affecting the industry from their vantage point.
Another new addition to the Expo in 2011 is a general session called "Young Guns." A panel comprising five operators under the age of 35 will share their perspectives on the future of the industry. "Sadly, it's been a tough year — we lost some people, either through retirement or untimely deaths," Parra says. "We need to talk to the people who really represent the future.
"The convention really has to be timely and focused on what our members are challenged with," Parra says. To that end, UMA surveys its membership annually to determine what conference offerings would best address operators' concerns. "Our job is helping them be successful. We have to understand what their pressure points are."
Recent surveys have brought several topics into the spotlight. "They need marketing help, everybody would like to see more customers, better customers and more revenue," says Ken Presley, UMA's vice president of industry relations.
Despite tightening belts in recent years, Expo attendance has held fairly steady, Parra says. "We had really good numbers two years ago, and we've been pretty much even with that. We haven't seen much of a fall-off," he says. "Our membership in operators has actually grown in the past year. I like to think we're doing the right things. But in times of uncertainty, people are looking for answers, and we try to provide them with answers, not just with our convention, but year round."
Addressing economic factors
One of the key sessions being offered at the Expo is one that addresses smart pricing strategies, Parra says. "How do you really optimize your pricing at a time like this? You may be counting on the fall or next spring to be your high-profit time to carry through. Well, you better maximize the business you're getting today," he says.
Motivating employees is something operators should do in good times and bad, Parra says, but with a poor economy sowing apathy among the ranks, it's particularly critical. "Everybody has to look out after the growth of the business," he says. "It can't just be the CEO — it's got to be everybody moving in the same direction."
A session on reducing tax exposure will help attendees maximize expenditures and make smart financial decisions, Parra says. Additionally, attendees will gain knowledge in a session on sorting out one of the key questions they may be facing these days: refurbish vs. lease vs. buy. "A lot of companies have held back in their spending on new equipment," Parra says. "We're going to try and teach them what the best decision is in their circumstances, in their marketplace, in their environment, with their financial position being what it is."