By Mac Lacy
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — More than 3,000 travel industry delegates, including 750 travel buyers, gathered January 5-9 for the 35th annual American Bus Association (ABA) Marketplace, kicking off a year that many hope will continue an upward trend for the intercity bus industry and a growth year for its members’ tour and charter divisions.
While the tour and charter operations of ABA companies are of primary interest to the travel industry sellers in attendance, significant growth in the intercity bus industry could signal a greater overall acceptance of motorcoaches with the next generation of travelers. And that would be good news for the hundreds of travel destination attendees who joined those bus operators in more than 100,000 business appointments over the five days.
“I have a son in college who told me recently that buses are becoming cool again,” said Don DeVivo, president of DATTCO, one of New England’s largest operators based in New Britain, Connecticut, and a member of ABA’s executive board.
A review of his fleet supports that statement. DATTCO’s lineup for group charters includes dozens of 57-seat premium coaches, plus double-decker coaches that seat 81 passengers and are very popular with student groups; 48-seat customized “experience” vehicles, some of which have been customized for major tour companies like Tauck and Globus; Sprinters for eight to 12 passengers; and executive coaches that seat 21 people for ballgames, corporate outings and wedding parties.
But the “cool factor” is also taking root with intercity bus service as well, helped along by the recent entry of new discount carriers in the Northeast and other regions of the country. Commuters, students and budget-minded travelers are climbing onboard in increasing numbers.
“There are many factors driving growth in the intercity bus transportation industry,” said ABA senior director of communications Dan Ronan. “Price, value and the growing awareness of the ‘green aspect’ of traveling by bus come into play, but certainly one of those with the next generation of riders is the cool factor associated with some of the new discount carriers. Those companies are using marketing-driven names like BoltBus, Megabus and Vamoose.”
At a press conference in Charlotte, ABA president and CEO Peter Pantuso was joined by officials from Chicago’s DePaul University in releasing annual industry research that showed the following:
• Intercity bus service has grown by 7.5 percent in the past year, its highest growth rate in four years.
• Discount operators like Megabus and Boltbus saw their service grow by more than 30 percent over the same period.
• As an intercity transportation segment, the 7.5 percent growth for buses outpaced 3 percent growth for rail and 1 percent growth by airlines over the same period.