All sectors of the travel industry have been affected by the shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly all, that is. One particular niche, the motorcoach industry, a segment of which is also known as the travel and tour industry, has been overlooked, even by the U.S. Congress, which has failed to grant relief to the industry in its recently passed economic relief packages.
“Congress missed the bus,” said Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association. “They completely ignored the motorcoach industry – the movers of America – while every other form of passenger transportation, i.e. airlines, Amtrak and transit have received more than $50 billion to save these industries …”
According to a report released Monday by the American Bus Association Foundation, the industry is seeing a fallout of 80 to 90 percent of canceled trips, and very few future bookings. Some of the worse losses, the report continues, have been in the charter business, which depends on tours, meetings and conferences, during the busiest time of the year. Many charter companies earn as much as 60 percent of their revenue from March to June.
The motorcoach industry in 2018 employed more than 88,000 people and pumped $15 billion into the U.S. economy. Projections are dire, and foresee job losses of up to 92.4 percent of the current industry workforce, and a loss of $14.2 billion in sales.
Bus operators are just one part of the equation, the statement continued. Nearly two million full-time equivalent jobs are related to the motorcoach industry, including personnel in restaurants, taverns, hotels, entertainment venues, sports stadiums, parks, theaters and zoos. Overall, the motorcoach travel and tourism industry generates $86.4 billion in wages and benefits for these workers.
Ginny Howell, owner of GH Tours Inc., has been in business 32 years and has had to shutter her livelihood.
Howell is a receptive tour operator, which is a wholesale tour operator who sells to tour operators and group leaders, who in turn sell the tours to their customers.
“We offer tours to Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and various other places they request, such as New England, New Orleans, Cincinnati, (and) San Antonio, to name a few,” she said. “I plan all transportation, lodging, meals, admissions, and provide tour directors who are with the group throughout the tour.”
Howell said the tour season in the Golden Isles is March through May and September through December. Because she tours other areas, she operates throughout the year, as do her tour directors.
GH Tours hosts 50 to 75 motorcoach groups a year.
“Our company employs 15 people in our community,” she said. “We have been forced to shut our doors. Shutting down our business means no more trip planning for future groups.”
It’s usually easy to spot a motorcoach on Jekyll or St. Simons islands this time of year, but not right now. And unless tours resume in the fall, businesses that generally benefit from motorcoach tours, including hotels, restaurants, attractions and shops, will see another drop in their revenue.
“No tourism dollars coming in at all, and we will never make up this loss,” Howell said. “An overnight tour usually spends $12,000 a night, and a tour usually spends three to four nights.
“Without the motorcoaches, I am virtually out of business. We book tours six to 12 months in advance, so any tours I can book now will not be arriving until November or December, but mostly not until spring 2021.”
Scott McQuade, president of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau, concurred with Howell that the loss in revenue from the lack of motorcoach business is significant.
However, he said as the Golden Isles has become a more popular destination and lodging rates have increased, there’s been a decrease in overnight stays by motorcoach tours, but the loss in business is still significant.
“The motorcoach sector is a large and important part of the economy, and losing that business has a huge impact,” McQuade said, particularly for area attractions, restaurants and retailers. “The travel and tour business is significant here in the Golden Isles. It’s an integral part of the community.”