MAX LEGROOM: Fewer Seats Pay Off For Bus Operator

Posted on January 5, 2011 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

As airlines increasingly cramp customers with squeezed seat pitches, one Florida operation underscores the timeless virtue of investing in passenger enjoyment.

COCOA BEACH, Fla. — Customers will pay a little bit more for comfort, even in the recession.

That's what Kim Hinton, account manager of Cocoa Beach-based charter company TRAVELYNX, says — and that strategy has helped TraveLynx's business grow 25% from 2009.

With that growth, it will double its fleet of custom, 38-passenger motorcoaches and add a new terminal in Miami.

Hinton said the custom luxury motorcoaches have been a staple of the company's business, offering a third more legroom than a traditional charter coach. Much of TraveLynx's business comes from school groups, church groups, athletic teams or senior groups looking to travel regionally.

The coaches are the size of a traditional large, luxury bus, but have 17 fewer seats built in. It comes with a price tag: For a private charter in the Daytona Beach area, such as a dinner outing, wedding or corporate event, a 38-passenger coach would cost about $100 per hour with a four-hour minimum, said Sandy Burroughs, charter sales coordinator.

“Initially, many thought that these would not be applicable with the economy," Hinton said of the motorcoaches, which have fewer seats than the traditional 55-passenger model. "It was thought that individuals or seniors would not pay to see the difference.”

However, with custom features, such as wi-fi and footrests, customers decide they can be more productive than driving on their own, and they can save time they would have spent in an airport. Plus, the average cost to ride on a 38-passenger vehicle exceeds the cost of riding on a 55-passenger bus by about a cup of coffee.

"Most of us, myself included, were baby boomers, and when it translates to less strain on your body ... it really is cost-effective," Hinton said.

Charter vehicle travel as a whole isn't growing at the pace of TraveLynx, although a company spokesman for Greyhound said charter sales make up a significant portion of business and have increased over the past few years.

Phil Strack, owner of Gainesville, Fla.-based charter service Legendary Coaches, said business has been down for two consecutive years. However, he said he's seen an increase in customers who add up the costs and decide that taking a group bus can cost around the same as driving where they need to go.

“I think we've been doing better than a lot of industries," Strack said. "You're getting a little bit more of an intelligent shopper."

With a terminal on West International Speedway Boulevard in Daytona Beach, many of TraveLynx's clients are local. Bethune-Cookman University's basketball teams were the first to sign on to use the coaches in early 2009, Hinton said, and they signed a contract with the company soon afterward.

TRAVELYNX's other clients include Stetson University, Daytona State College and Central Florida Community College. The company's fleet includes about 60 vehicles total and 10 of the 38-passenger coaches. Its 55-passenger vehicles traditionally go out to bigger school groups, such as elementary students, Hinton said.

Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal

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