Whether it’s Southern California, the Deep South, or New England, motorcoach tour operators are combining activities and regional attributes for a more interactive experience that gets customers of varying demographics on board.
The strategy was borne out of a need to revive the tour market soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “The market went in different directions, with tours not as strong as they used to be,” says Steve Klika, president of International Motorcoach Group (IMG). Tour companies looked more closely at what people wanted and discovered that customers sought a more interactive experience.
Operators started going beyond just having riders get on and off a bus, Klika explains. Now, many operators are refocusing to reach out to tour groups of different ages and giving them more time to relax along the way. Here are just a handful of examples of successful interactive tours that motorcoach operators are using to draw a wider variety of customers.
1) Brush Hill Tours-Gray Line in Boston offers a “Plymouth Plantation Tour,” allowing attendees to “explore another world in another time” by becoming part of the Pilgrim’s world of the 1600s. In this living museum, tourists accompany the Pilgrims as they go about their daily tasks. Travelers can watch artisans recreate 17th Century pottery, baskets, books, and furniture. Visitors can see the historical sites of Plymouth Harbor, Plymouth Rock, the Mayflower II, Cole’s Hill, Brewster Gardens, and the 50-minute “Plymouth Trolley Tour.”
2) Coach America-Southern California Gray Line of Anaheim, Calif., sells “The OC Experience.” The tour was inspired by the TV show, “The OC”, and includes a harbor cruise, and stops at all the best shopping in California’s Orange County. The tour bus stops at Newport Beach, the historic Balboa Fun Zone waterfront, and Fashion Island. Tailored to the value-conscious traveler, the total cost of the tour is $54.
3) Eyre Bus Tour & Travel in Glenelg, Md., offers the “Crime and Consequences Tour” held at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, D.C. This tour puts travelers in the thick of a “crime scene,” providing a hands-on experience. “You test your CSI skills. It’s more hands-on, rather than just walking around the museum, reading and looking at stuff,” says Kim Grizzel, tour planner. $99 per person.
4) Holiday Tours. The Randleman, N.C.-based tour provider will offer the “Branson Summer Super Saver” from Aug. 16-21, 2010, a six-day vacation for less than $100 per day (based on double occupancy). This vacation includes three country musical shows, free time for shopping and sightseeing in Branson, MO, and overnight stays in Jackson, Tenn., and the country music capital of Nashville, TN. Rates per person range from $499 to $769.
5) Mid-Atlantic Receptive Services (MARS) just became the designated tour provider for the “Journey Through Hallowed Ground” region, an area covering parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. The area is designated as a National Scenic Byway, says John Jones, communications director, Partnership for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. More history has taken place in this 180-mile corridor than in any other part of the country. Interactive, historical-themed tours, ranging from African-American heritage to leadership, are expected to be planned throughout 2010.
6) Maine Tour Connection of South Portland, Maine, a receptive tour company, offers the Maine Lobster Festival package. Tour features include the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, Maine, with a choice of coastal or inland accommodations, a lobster boat ride, and coastal scenery. A variety of accommodations and activities are available, including Bar Harbor and Boothbay Harbor outings. A “Lighthouse and Lobster Tour” is also offered. There are two, three, and four-night tour options available. The tour will run Aug. 4-8, 2010.
7) RAZ Transportation/Gray Line of Portland, Ore., showcases some of the famed Pacific Northwestern coastal highlights with “The Northern Oregon Coast Tour.” Passengers can visit beaches and wooded areas and experience cheese-making firsthand at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, OR. The cost per adult is $52.40, per child $26.20.
8) Roberts Hawaii, a coach tour operator in Honolulu, sells a one-day “Volcano Tour and Lava Walk Tour” allowing travelers to explore more of Hawaii beyond Waikiki. The tour provides a view of nature at work, with dormant volcanoes, lava beds, steam vents, and craters. The tour also includes a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii and a walk out over rough terrain to view the glow of fiery lava from active lava fields.
9) Starr Tours, a Trenton, N.J.-based motorcoach company, runs a “Girlfriends Getaway Wellness Weekend,” a three-day, two-night event at Honor’s Haven Resort & Spa in Ellenville, N.Y., with meals included. The trip is packed with activities, such as travel to Central Valley, N.Y., shopping, a wine and cheese reception, tai-chi and yoga classes, but also allows for downtime.
10) Sweet Magnolia Tours of Nashville, Tenn., will soon begin offering the “Arkansas Delta Tour.” New for the spring of 2010, subjects on the tour will include The Southern Tenant Farmers Union and 1930s Depression Era history. Tourgoers can visit The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza, Ariz., the boyhood home of Johnny Cash, and a stop to view the sharecropper’s home from the movie, “The Painted House,” based on the book by Arkansas native John Grisham. Also to be explored on the tour are “The Sunken Lands,” created by the great earthquake of 1811 that rerouted the Mississippi River.