How to Better Market Your Tour Bus Operation

LCT Staff
Posted on May 1, 2002

Whether you currently have a tour bus operation, or you?re considering diversifying and don?t know where to start, the first step is identifying and knowing your customer. Next, using effective marketing to reach your customers is crucial to the success of your business.

Michael Schoolman, director of business development for Classic Transportation Group in Bohemia, N.Y., targets large organizations that put together group travel. ?Tour companies that specialize in sightseeing excursions, church groups, schools, colleges and universities are all groups to focus on,? Schoolman says.

Jeff Goebel, vice president of Hopkins Airport Limousine in Cleveland, Ohio, says that senior citizens are his prime customers, and he targets this group by participating in senior open houses and building relationships with travel arrangers at senior centers. ?The senior market is kind of fickle,? Goebel says. ?They like dealing with one person, and if you do a good job for them, generally they come back to you. Building relationships is crucial to generating and keeping this business.?

Getting Started with Tours Before taking the plunge into a new market, do some initial market research and find out if any of your customers currently have a need for this type of vehicle and transportation. ?We have an advantage because we?re an integrated company,? Schoolman says. ?We have limousines, vans and buses. Many times that?s an advantage where you can go to a customer and say, ?we can handle all of your transportation needs from a small group to a very large group.? The best way to get started is to talk to your own customers and see what kind of need they have for the service.?

Check out who is currently in the market offering this service ? who is the competition?

If there?s little competition, you may find a niche. Or you may find a niche to use a coach for something different than someone else is using it for right now. ?Find out what?s going on in your market, and if you were to get into the market, how it would help you out,? Schoolman says.

The ABCs of DMCs A destination management company has knowedge of the local area and sights, and the resources to coordinate events, activities, tours and transportation. Typically, a meeting planner will contact a DMC to coordinate an event. Consider aligning yourself with a local DMC to become the preferred carrier for its packaged events. Or, position your company to meeting planners as a transportation company that can also include a ?meet-and-greet? service.

While Best Transportation in Huntington Beach, Calif., works with DMCs, the company has a slightly different view on the partnership. ?We work with DMCs whose clients demand the high level of service we provide,? says Ken Noguera, director of sales and marketing for Best. ?However, we must be able to charge what we need in order to make a profit on each run. We know that volume will not magically make up the difference.?

Noguera cautions that many transportation providers are willing to work on low margins for volume, and they forget that volume alone wears out your staff and your equipment. ?The fact that a person calls and identifies himself or herself as a DMC does not automatically entitle them to a ?DMC rate? or special discount,? Noguera says. ?While I certainly appreciate the fact that our cost of sale is reduced when someone hands us a travel manifest, I never forget that we?ve invested a couple of million dollars in equipment and systems, and it?s not there solely for the purpose of a DMC or anyone else to use as a profit center.?

Choosing Advertising Methods There are many types of marketing methods available to business owners, from simple Yellow Pages advertisements to creating a company Web site. Below are some advertising tools that have proven successful for operators. Consider using a combination of these methods to reach potential clients.

... for more on this topic, check out the May issue of LCT magazine!

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