Scott Michael joined the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) as president/CEO in October, taking over for Larry Killingsworth, who led the agency during the height of the pandemic. Previously, Michael was the president/CEO of the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) for five years. In all, he spent 26 years at AMSA with roles including serving as the industry’s liaison with the U.S. military.
METRO spoke to Michael about coming onboard as the industry emerges from the pandemic, his short- and long-term goals at the association, 2023’s EXPO, and much more.
Can you discuss what it’s been like to jump in at the UMA during the pandemic?
It is an exciting time to be joining an association representing an industry that is in the process of reinventing itself. We have come through the worst of the pandemic, and motorcoach travel is coming back, so there are lots of opportunities for operators to re-orient their businesses to take advantage of how the industry is changing. At UMA, I’m surrounded by operators who have made the tough decisions and redirected their companies to thrive in the new environment. This makes it interesting to explore ways that UMA can continue to assist our members through advocacy, information, and facilitating networking to share best practices.
What has the adjustment period been like, and how have you been able to not only get up to speed at the UMA but also with your membership?
One thing that drew me to this industry is the many family-owned companies who bring a different level of commitment and passion to the industry. In that respect, it’s like the moving and storage industry where I came from. I think that family aspect of many of these operators makes them more welcoming and invested in ensuring the success of the overall industry. UMA has such a powerful history of companies that have supported it since the UBOA days and are very invested in UMA’s success. I have heard from members who appreciate all that UMA has done to foster competition and create opportunities for the industry to grow, and now they want to pay that back to support the next generation of up-and-coming operators. Motorcoach operators seem to go out of their way to help each other, and I have tapped into that for them to help me learn more about their operations and the details that will be essential to understanding how UMA can continue to represent them.
Are there any short- or long-term goals you set when coming aboard?
In the short term, I’ve been focused on learning about the industry and UMA’s rich history. I started just a few months before the UMA Motorcoach EXPO, which is such an important part of what makes UMA special, so that was certainly a major focus initially. I’m now shifting gears to engage in more outreach to the membership, attending state and regional meetings, and recruiting members. It’s been very encouraging to hear from so many people who recognize the value that UMA has brought to the industry and wanting to continue that tradition. Longer-term, the board is looking to diversify our revenue to ensure UMA’s long-term fiscal health. We have some great opportunities to create added value for operators as they return to work.
What is the sort of state of the industry as of now? Are there specific sectors of business that are bouncing back quicker than others?
What has really struck me is the way so many operators are just overwhelmed with work. After being shut down for so long, they were just ready to get back to work and get back to doing what they love to do. It has been a tough transition to having to tell customers they can’t help them, or they must change what they are asking for to be able to service that trip. The driver shortage is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are difficulties in filling all types of positions in these companies. We’re starting to see more paperwork violations as things start falling through the cracks, in part due to the amount of work, but also because of changes in roles as companies get back to work.
It seems the schools and related sports functions were really the first to come back, depending on the part of the country. Discretionary travel has been slower to return, which includes church groups. For example, my daughters’ church mission trip this summer had to pass on a charter bus because of funding, so the higher cost can be an obstacle for customers whose finances have been hurt by the pandemic, like many nonprofits. Commuter service may never return to its original level if the work-from-home movement continues to disrupt office environments.
Many predicted we could see an uptick in business by the end of the year and perhaps be on the road to a bit more normalcy in 2023, do you feel that is something the industry is still anticipating?
We are seeing an uptick in business to the point that most operators can make decisions about prioritizing types of trips or types of customers. There has been a lot of upward pressure on prices, which has helped operators increase compensation to attract drivers. Some operators have started turning down overnight trips, which are more challenging from a scheduling and safety standpoint, and others are re-thinking how they charge for relief drivers. This is the time to make smart decisions about how to service and price the more challenging trips and to negotiate with customers to ensure that itineraries can be structured with safety in mind. I’ve been trying to talk about the ‘new normal,’ because we’re not going to return to the old normal way of doing business. I know a lot of operators are looking for some stabilization in terms of their operations, but that will take time.
Last EXPO was a great opportunity for the industry to once again be together. Can you talk about that experience, as well as what the UMA has planned for 2023’s event?
The UMA Motorcoach EXPO in 2022 had great participation from our OEM partners as they displayed their new equipment to a big audience for the first time in a while. We really appreciated all the other vendors who also came to Long Beach to support the industry’s recovery and see their customers. Operator attendance really came together in the last few weeks and made for a great show.
We’re looking to see even more operators in Orlando next year as we kick off 2023 at EXPO in January. We’re ending on a long weekend, so we anticipate more families may come down to spend a few extra days to see the city after EXPO ends. As far as the meeting goes, our planning committee has already started meeting to produce a great program, and we’re working with the vendors to enhance our evening events as we build back to the pre-pandemic type of EXPO. Orlando is the place to be for operators who want to see the latest products and services for the industry and to meet up with friends throughout the industry.
Anything you’d like to add about the UMA or the current state of the industry?
Yes. My career has been primarily focused on government relations, so I’m proud that UMA is the voice of the motorcoach operator in our lobbying efforts. We have a long history of fighting for new entrants, small businesses, and charter operators who seek a level playing field and fair competition. Taking action to assure UMA Members this fair opportunity comes from mitigating or eliminating burdensome regulations and new laws. There are plenty of people, inside and outside the industry, which want more rules and regulations because they know that tactic can disproportionately affect small fleet operators.
We have spent a lot of time the past few years fighting for CERTS money and now tax relief on the CERTS grants, but we also need to keep our advocacy focus on protecting the charter service rule, limiting regulation, and providing opportunities for motorcoach operators to be successful. Because of the pandemic, in-person lobbying has been severely restricted, so we’re fortunate to have lobbyists who are well-connected and knowledgeable about our issues. We’re also trying to help our members find other ways to connect with their legislators and build those relationships that we will need to keep fighting for the industry. We’re planning another fly-in to bring our members in to DC to meet with Congress as soon as we can, likely Spring of 2023. That will be an important event to come together and advocate for the motorcoach industry.
It is also noteworthy that according to FMCSA, approximately one-half of the motorcoach companies likely no longer exist. While this accounts for some of the surge in business many operators are experiencing, there are also many areas in the country that are not likely being served any more. These voids create business opportunities for bus and motorcoach companies to expand their footprint.
UMA will continue informational opportunities that not only enlighten, but hopefully inspire. The daily UMA NewsFLASH, weekly UMA Town Hall, Bus & Motorcoach News, UMA Safety Management Seminar, and UMA Motorcoach EXPO remain staples of the industry as we look for new methods to deliver the tools UMA Members require to flourish in the months and years ahead.