Operations

Visit To Motorcoach Plant In Spain Gives Great Insights

The Irizar motorcoach plant in San Sebastian, Spain, where the i6 bus is built for the U.S. market distributed by INA Bus Sales. (photo: Irizar/INA)
The Irizar motorcoach plant in San Sebastian, Spain, where the i6 bus is built for the U.S. market distributed by INA Bus Sales. (photo: Irizar/INA)

Last April I was invited to tour the Irizar motorcoach plant in San Sebastian, Spain, along with 12 bus operators from North America.

I learned a lot. It was fascinating to see a European bus facility in full production, to be sure, but the greatest intel I got was from talking to the hosts and spending time with the operator guests. While I see the differences between the “big” buses and luxury shuttles, we are all so similar in many ways. A vehicle for hire — for charter, I should say — is distinct from courtesy transportation.

That’s an important footnote. Because if you are in the market for a bus, before you make the leap, know exactly what you intend to do with that bus. For instance, if you plan to procure contract work in your market, what kind is it? If you want to get a contract with a parking lot owner to outsource their shuttle work, or a hotel to airport shuttle, or a retirement home that provides transportation to town for their occupants, those shuttle buses are likely to be complimentary. Therefore, you would not invest in a luxury coach, but a courtesy shuttle instead, or a basic people mover.

However, if you are targeting collegiate contracts, you can’t secure that business without being able to offer a large coach. Does it have to be over-the-top deluxe? Probably not. But you must get that detail before you invest in a bus. Then, if your market is a convention, retreat, or special meeting destination, be sure you talk to meeting planners about what they need for equipment before you plunge in and buy. I know an operator with many clients from Dubai. He must have top-of-the-line buses for that sector of his business. 

Tours and staycations continue to gain popularity nationwide, so if your market teems with tour potential, investing in buses is a good idea if you can offer the right ones. The comfort of a bus on even a day tour is paramount to the overall experience. Do your homework.

The volume of local business dictates the size and scope of any fleet. Never just own a vehicle hoping to attract business; build your book first. Start out as your own DMC and outsource to trusted local bus affiliates. You will know when your book is built up enough to bring that business in-house by the volume, but always consult your accountant.

On the contrary, if you are going to play in the bus space (and I think you should if your market decrees it will make you money), I encourage you to make friends with all your motorcoach peers. Why? Because controlling your fleets is critical for long-term success. And rather than have too many buses or not enough, you should pool resources at the local level and lean on strategic alliances for overflow. This way you aren’t paying for underused metal.

Fill all gaps in your seasonal work. Nearly everyone in this country has peaks and valleys in their business. You should be ready to support both. At least four months before your high seasons, make sure to get aggressive with driver recruitment. Yes, it can take that long to find and train one good bus driver. Get in front of the slower months early on as well.

For example, I spoke to an operator on my trip who fights the summer doldrums in Texas by farming his buses to New York China tours. New York & Company, the promotional arm for the state, predicts more than one million Chinese tourists will visit Manhattan in the summer of 2018.

We hope you enjoy reading our “bus” themed issue. Don’t forget to email us your comments, questions, and concerns so we may help you! We are here to serve. 

Happy Trails,

Sara

Related Topics: bus manufacturers, Irizar, LCT Publisher, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, OEMs, Sara Eastwood-Richardson

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