A significant, often less-acknowledged part of wedding planning involves providing accommodations for out-of-town wedding guests.
It makes the planning experience a lot less stressful knowing that family and friends will have options for activities during the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, time before the ceremony on the wedding day, any downtime between the ceremony and the reception, and an easy way to get back to the hotel afterward.
This out-of-towner predicament provides a prime opportunity for motorcoach operators to increase their business during wedding season, with customizable local tours and shuttle services.
Craig Treanor, director of sales at Richmond, Va.-based James River Bus Lines and Carey Transportation, says that his operation fills this need by offering tours of the historical highlights of Richmond, Va., including St. John’s Church, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, the State Capitol, and Monument Avenue, which has been designated as a national historical site. “African American history and the general Richmond history seem to be the most popular,” he notes.
These tours end up being low maintenance, typically only requiring one motorcoach, to accommodate about 20 people. “It’s unusual for wedding sightseeing to go beyond one vehicle,” Treanor explains.
While these tours comprise a small amount of business for James River/Carey, with 1% being attributed to weddings, and only a portion of that going to wedding guest sightseeing tours, Treanor says that the benefit lies in supplementing revenue.
“You get associated with weddings, and the tours are not really much of a challenge. It’s fairly typical things being done during peoples’ down time, not very time-sensitive, things that don’t have to be set on an exact schedule.”
Partnering with Planners
Jennifer Friebely, director of marketing at Classic Coach Companies, based in Bohemia, N.Y, says the carrier makes special arrangements for wedding guests, such as lunch and a Broadway show, or a visit to wine country. While Classic works with wedding planners on many of these jobs, and some already have a tour plan in mind, some out-of-town planners will seek the benefit of Classic’s local experience, making them integral to the planning.
Friebely says that 10% of its business comes from wedding guest tours, but they are striving to do more. In particular, they are reaching out to meeting and event planners. “We can help make their lives a lot easier,” Friebely says. “I think that some people do it on their own because they think they can save money, but we can be a one-stop shop.”
Ellen Kilby, tour and travel manager of Glenelg, Md.-based Eyre Bus, Tour & Travel, describes a recent wedding job taken on by her operation. “These people were getting married at St. John’s Church across from the White House. [We] took them from there to the reception and then to the hotel. If they wanted to have a couple of glasses of wine, they could, and it made it safe for everybody, and it was just fun.”
Eyre has been in a good position to handle pre- and post wedding trips, being so close to the nation’s capital. A typical trip on the wedding day usually consists of the grooms’ party going golfing, the bridal party going for manicures and pedicures, and out-of-town guests getting a tour of Washington, D.C., Baltimore, or Annapolis, M.D., Kilby says.
While pre- and post-wedding tours are not common, Classic Coach also plans to pursue more of this business. Kilby says that many clients simply are not aware that wedding guest charters are available. Like Friebely, Kilby is making more contact with event planners to handle out-of-town guest tours.
Often, clients will choose a 55-passenger motorcoach because of price and efficiency, and to keep the shuttling back and forth minimal, Kilby says. However, more flexibility can be required for shuttle services. Some clients need a 28-passenger coach to accommodate 100 guests, offering the option for some to return to the hotel at various points in the evening before the reception ends.
“Others will say, ‘everybody’s going to stay till the end, so we’ll need a bigger coach.’ However their numbers pan out, we can make it happen.”
Dale Moser, president and COO of Dallas-based Coach USA, says that customization is key to such jobs, whether they are tours or shuttles. The operator offers a variety of equipment, from old-fashioned, San Francisco-style trolleys to open-top double-decker touring vehicles, to executive motorcoaches with leather seating and flat screen TVs.
More options are possible since clients now tend to be more open to suggestions, Moser says. “It’s not something generic, just getting people from point A to point B; it’s something that helps to create some memories.”
Moser also points out that most people planning their weddings are reserving services far enough in advance to make accommodating special tour, shuttle or vehicle requests easy to accommodate.
But one challenge can be timing. The wedding business is one of Coach USA’s biggest services, most of it taking place on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer, Moser says. “If you could spread weddings out over Monday through Wednesday….it’s unrealistic, but the demand is all on a two or three-day basis. That’s just part of the need.”
SIDEBAR: Getting On the Guest List
Five tips on ushering in more wedding guest business.
 Upsell. The most important thing, James River’s Treanor stresses, is to upsell the wedding guest tour option when talking with the client. “They might not have even thought, ‘Hey what am I going to do with these 50 people who are going to be coming into town and really don’t have anything to do for four hours on Saturday morning?’ Plant the seed that you can put them on a bus or a mini-coach, and they’ll be happy for that period of time and won’t be bored.”
 Advertise. James River/Carey Transportation sends out monthly emails to current and past customers, highlighting their availability to conduct sightseeing tours, transportation to offsite events, and the types of vehicles they offer. Classic Coach markets their popular wine tours.
 Contact meeting and event planners. Let them know you are a valuable resource. Go beyond the cold call or email. Classic Coach’s Friebely says that she attends event planner trade shows to tap the market.
 Join social networking sites to make additional connections. Friebely recommends Sheckys.com, a site that caters to women, and focuses on night life events nationwide.
 Get involved with the concierge population, a useful link to out-of-town guests. “We’re letting them know we’re available, and can get their clients and customers,” Friebely says.