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Bus Expo Points To A Luxury Future

Martin Romjue
Posted on February 2, 2018
As this Van Hool CX45 interior shows, standard class on a motorcoach equals business class on an airliner (photo by Martin Romjue/LCT)
As this Van Hool CX45 interior shows, standard class on a motorcoach equals business class on an airliner (photo by Martin Romjue/LCT)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — I found the ideal way last month to usher in the New Year and the first issue of our rebranded Luxury Coach & Transportation Magazine: I attended my first United Motorcoach Association (UMA) Expo. I can report it felt a lot like the LCT trade shows I’ve worked at for the last 10 years.

My decade at LCT has coincided with the transition from an industry oriented to mostly traditional stretch limousines and black vehicles to one gaining into a growing array of minibuses, vans, and motorcoaches. The makes and models of buses widen each year, proving how chauffeured and chartered vehicles offer endless creative potential with designs, technology, and amenities.

All I have to do is count the number of stretches versus buses we had on the 2008 show floor at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and compare it to the ratio we’ll have on the 2018 show floor — in the same place. Story told.

Crossovers
At the UMA Expo, I saw plenty of familiar operator and vendor faces, which underscores the overlap between the traditional limousine/chauffeured vehicle and motorcoach sectors. Full-size coaches surround and tower over all else.

I observed how the members of each industry are similar and complementary. Limousine operators are a thick-skinned, street smart bunch experienced in dealing with some of the most difficult, demanding, and discriminating customers on the planet: VIPs, celebrities, and executives. Motorcoach operators are detail-driven, vigilant guardians rooted in the service of pleasing 50+ member groups, and resemble ship captains tasked with ensuring safety.

While Uber undercuts limousine operators, motorcoach operators must handle far more strict regulations and federal audits. The comparisons could go on, but in a private transportation fleet sector where luxury sedans and motorcoaches often share the same lots, the two industries can offer mutual help.

Limo operators specialize in high-touch individual service; motorcoach ones master the procedures of compliance. Both understand the challenges of maintaining per-vehicle profit margins in a ground transportation sector disrupted by on-demand alternatives and the coming revolution in driverless vehicles.

Mutual Goals
During the opening session on Jan. 7, UMA leaders reported 2017 was the first year since at least 2010 when no new regulations hit the industry. The audience erupted in applause at the prospect of holding off the endless stream of busybody rules. Most ridiculous: A proposal to require motorcoach operators to test and monitor for 80 different strains of driver sleep apnea. Can you imagine?

Leaders also referred to the industry’s top challenge, which is identical to that for chauffeured transportation: Finding enough qualified, motivated drivers who stick around. This is one example where the chauffeured transportation and motorcoach industries can collaborate on common approaches and solutions, whether chauffeurs or drivers.

The most positive sign was all those coaches on the show floor, now more high-tech, advanced, efficient, and luxurious than ever. I sat in one after the other, and all I could think was wishing airline economy sections were like this. Such product choice and quality can only lead to new opportunities for operators, from corporate group runs, to inter-city line runs and commuter services, to an upgraded, highly customized VIP travel lounge experience. No public transit system, transportation network company (TNC), or airline could ever compare to the overall value and economics of moving groups.

Big Potential
I’ll close on a practical, hopeful note, which is easy since the Expo offered so many. In a keynote presentation, Michael Dominguez, the chief sales officer of MGM Resorts International, outlined a potential gold mine for motorcoach and minibus transportation.

eSports gaming is the fastest growing segment in the meetings industry. It will be a $5 billion-and-growing sector by 2020, and an Olympic sport by 2024. The industry thrives on competing teams, leagues, tournaments, and gaming conventions held in cities around the U.S. One recent worldwide championship drew 100,000 people to an arena, and 35 million watching worldwide on Twitch, the YouTube of e-gaming.

Get the picture? These are mostly age 34-44 adults who need to travel, preferably with onboard wireless connectivity. “So if I’m in your seats,” Dominguez told bus operators, “I don’t know how all these people are traveling now. There are opportunities to start understanding eSports, how big it is and how fast it’s growing. It is a tremendous opportunity in all segments of our business.”

Related Topics: bus market, buses, luxury buses, Luxury Coach & Transportation, luxury market trends, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, tradeshows, United Motorcoach Association

Martin Romjue Editor
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