2013 Innovative Operator: Yankee Trails

Posted on January 9, 2013 by Brittni Rubin, Assistant Editor

Founded in 1957 by current owner John Tobin’s father, Yankee Trails got its start as a two-bus charter business serving patrons of upstate New York. More than 50 years later, the company has expanded to 45 motorcoaches, gained close to 100 total employees, and now, serves the entire Northeast region of the U.S., making trips mainly within New York as well as to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Since 1980, the company has maintained a prominent touring division, offering packages featuring everything from sports games to Broadway shows. As well, seasonal programs keep the revenue steady and the options fresh for customers.

But for Yankee Trails, an endeavor on par with business growth has always been charity. Over a dozen times per year, Tobin and his family members — many of whom are affiliated with Yankee Trails — volunteer time and resources to an organization called Bus Stop Club.

Started in 2005 by Dr. Brian Sheridan, Tobin’s first cousin, the Bus Stop Club provides a safe and fun environment for siblings of children with chronic illnesses or special needs. It’s a place for “kids to just be kids,” Tobin says, while interacting with healthcare professionals to get the support they need. A blossoming organization, there is now a handful of chapters throughout the region.

Every so often, Bus Stop Clubs go on field trips or have outings, where Yankee Trails charters its MCI buses to transport the children. Tobin’s team also works to provide free tickets to amusement parks and sporting games.

“While it’s nice to give to many charities, it’s more effective to give consistently to one,” Tobin says. “And when you donate your time, it’s just time. You could put a smile on a child’s face; a child that might come from a broken family, or might not get enough attention at home.”

Tobin’s ambitious contributions, which often include driving the charter vehicles himself, have also inspired his employees. Last month, the Bus Stop Club organized a charity even at a local bowling alley; more than 50 Yankee Trails employees attended.

“You want to lead by example,” explains Tobin, who got his bus driver’s license along with his two brothers after inheriting the company from their father. “Never let any employee do something you’re not willing to do yourself.”

December 2012 marked another big accomplishment for Yankee Trails: the launch of “Santa’s Magical Express,” the company’s newest winter program.
Running on Saturdays and Sundays for the month of December, the annual tour is much like the Warner Bros. film “Polar Express.” Children and their parents hop on Yankee Trails’ MCI J4500, adorned with holiday decorations, for an hour and 15 minute-long scavenger hunt.

The tour begins with a preshow at the company’s headquarters in Rensselaer, N.Y., which has been ornamented to look like Santa’s workshop. Children decorate Santa hats, write letters to Santa and meet “Santa himself” before embarking on an interactive journey around town.

Riders meet various characters — played by hired actors — from the traditional Christmas saga, such as Mrs. Claus, Ebenezer Scrooge and Frosty the Snowman. Throughout there are interstitials, routines and sing-a-longs.

The idea came from Tobin and his siblings as a way to increase revenue during winter. “The month of December is quite slow,” Tobin says. “[Santa’s Magical Express] is something to get our business growing, even during historically difficult months in our industry.”

Tobin’s siblings wrote the program’s script, which is meant to be entertaining for young children and adults alike.

“You have to try to strive and come up with new ideas; you never want to be the person behind the back seat,” Tobin says.

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