Technology

Planning Group Travel Has Never Been Easier

Michael Campos
Posted on September 23, 2011
The BusRates.com home page includes a four-step instructional box to guide new users.

The BusRates.com home page includes a four-step instructional box to guide new users.

In 2005, the United Motorcoach association launched BusRates.com to offer an easier way for group-travel planners to find bus companies. In 2009, the American Bus Association joined with the Ontario Motor Coach Association to launch GroupConnect.com, their portal for group-travel planners.

Both websites have evolved since their inception and offer more planning tools and options to benefit clients and operators alike. The philosophy behind them is simple: the easier it is for a client to book coaches and other group travel services from the same portal, the more likely they are to choose motorcoach travel over other modes of transportation.

The BusRates.com home page includes a four-step instructional box to guide new users.
The BusRates.com home page includes a four-step instructional box to guide new users.

BusRates.com, which receives nearly 100,000 visitors each month, sports an easy-to-use interface for clients searching for coach operators, hotel accommodations, restaurants, attractions, events, and other group activities.
“Our goal is not only to make it easy for our visitors to fulfill their group travel needs, but also to let them find out more about each company by directing them to a website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and/or review past customer reviews,” says Eric Elliot, program manager for BusRates.com. 

“We encourage user reviews to help future customers navigate the choices available to them,” BusRates CEO Victor Parra says.


DID YOU KNOW?

84% of Americans are influenced by online customer reviews, according to an Opinion Research Corp. survey.


Users can navigate back and forth between the different category tabs to build their trip itinerary.
Users can navigate back and forth between the different category tabs to build their trip itinerary.
BusRates.com User Features

 

  • Free to access.
  • Search for bus companies that offer group charters and own their buses.
  • Search by bus type, location, or company name.
  • Bus types: charter bus, minibus, school bus, Entertainer, Executive, limo bus, party bus, trolley, double decker, van, transit bus, tour operator.
  • Search for hotels, attractions, events and restaurants with National Tour Association membership.
  • Build customized itinerary.
  • Customer review and testimonials section.
  • Company descriptions, DOT safety ratings, websites, phone numbers, and email addresses.

BusRates.com Operator/Service Provider Features

  • Different paid ad positions.
  • Free one-month directory listing at the end of which BusRates will email the operator a summary traffic report to assess the benefit of joining the directory.
  • Post information such as fleet size, vehicle types, vehicle specs and amenities.
  • Post general rates, custom quotes, and inventory.

BusRates.com does not list:

  • Brokers or middlemen.
  • Fixed route/single passenger tickets.
  • Public transportation.
  • School bus companies that do not charter to the public.
  • Tourism and travel suppliers who are not members of NTA.


Monthly BusRates.com visitors from June 2010 to May 2011:

  • May: 124,352
  • April: 121,163
  • March: 132,033
  • February: 106,399
  • January: 119,468
  • December: 80,777
  • November: 96,604
  • October: 100,052
  • September: 107,961
  • August: 107,771
  • July: 113,090
  • June: 107,509

How Well Does It Work?
Dan Goff of A Goff Transportation in Charlottesville, Va. first came across BusRates.com when its ads popped up as competitors on sites where he already advertised. “I understand the benefit of referral networks, so I bought some advertising and received some work the first year,” he says.

“The following year, I bought the dominant ad in each of the markets we service, and I saw a very significant increase in the amount of work we received. I’m very pleased with BusRates.com because it has very active managers who don’t shy away from problems. When I had an incident with a competitor bashing my company by posting negative reviews on the site, I notified BusRates and they did a thorough, multi-day investigation to find the fraud and correct it. I find it a very valuable site and would recommend them to anyone.”

GroupConnect

GroupConnect was launched in November 2009 by the ABA and OMCA as a tool for group planners to build their itineraries online using the supplier members of both associations.

“We wanted to build an alliance between group planners and suppliers and offer more opportunities to give the suppliers business,” says Tony Funderburg, vice president of sales and marketing for GroupConnect.

Since GroupConnect and the ABA share a member-operator database, GroupConnect was able to create sites for the traveling public looking to charter buses and plan their own group trips: CharterBusConnect.com in 2010 and GroupTravelConnect.com in 2011.

While the three sites share common tools and resources, each has its own unique function. One thing they all share is the ease of communication between clients and operators; for each inquiry, GroupConnect acts like a middleman to pass on emails to operators and clients, facilitating business. Operators can choose to respond through the website’s internal messaging system, or they can email the client directly. Vice versa, clients can choose to send quote requests through the sites or contact the suppliers and operators directly, as GroupConnect supplies each company’s direct contact information.

Carrie Maher, director of national accounts for DATTCO in New Britain, Conn., says she looks at GroupConnect as an extension of her sales force. “It’s a great tool that’s an added value and benefit of being part of the ABA,” she says. “It’s an efficient way to get your name out there; we got more and more leads coming through after we joined. We love that we have total control over our profile so that the information displayed is an accurate depiction of our company.”

Operator interface
Annual fee for password-protected access to tools and resources such as:

  • Listings of motorcoach products.
  • Listings of suppliers.
  • Ability to customize company profile with photos, videos, fleet, DOT safety ratings, testimonials, and contact information.
  • Destination virtual tours and educational presentations.
  • Map and routing tools.

 

Tour Planner interface

Annual fee for password-protected access to tools and resources such as:

  • Listings of suppliers, coach operators, and CVBs.
  • Ability to build day-by-day itineraries and archive them in system.
  • Interactive map powered by Google that shows the locations of restaurants, accommodations, attractions, charter and tour operators, and other categories.
  • Company profile pages show pricing (unavailable to users on the other two public websites).
  • Destination virtual tours and educational presentations.

More Resources

GroupTravelConnect.com

  • Available for anyone to use.
  • Search listings for tour operators, accommodations, attractions, events, restaurants, retail outlets, scheduled transportation, product suppliers, and service providers.
  • Company descriptions, websites, phone numbers, and email addresses.
  • Receive multiple quotes with single search, but cannot build day-by-day itinerary.

 

CharterBusConnect.com

  • Available for anyone to use.
  • Search listings of charter bus operators.
  • Company descriptions, DOT safety ratings, websites, phone numbers, and email addresses.
  • Receive multiple quotes with single search.

Destination research, which can be found at www.groupconnect.com/research, is a detailed directory of Convention and Visitors Bureaus with links to sample itineraries for travel planners and public users to download.

Related Topics: American Bus Association, charter and tour, group travel, motorcoaches, online pricing, online reservations, online services, Ontario Motorcoach Association, United Motorcoach Association, websites

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