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Bus and Motor Coach Library

Consumer Visibility - The Key to a Successful Industry Marketing & Sales Strategy

-Authored by Brian Niddery (2001)

There are of course many facets involved in a successful marketing/sales program.  However, before one can even begin to think in terms of a successful marketing and sales strategy, a critical element must be in place!  That element is "Consumer Accessibility".  In today's competitive world, consumers expect and in fact demand "instant" access to services and products.  And if they cannot easily find a company or information about its products and services, they are inclined to quickly pass it by!

And the same holds true for entire industries.  On one level companies within the same industry must compete for consumer attention.  On another level entire industries are also in competition with each another for the attention of the consumer.

The bus industry is in the business of providing a wide range of passenger transportation and travel products.  So too are the airlines, rail, various travel related industries such as cruise lines, vacation destinations, leisure travel providers, hotels, resorts, and various other entities including the private automobile, all of which compete for the consumer transportation and travel discretionary dollar.

Most of these industries have developed very sophisticated sales distribution networks that provide almost instant accessibility by the consumer.  The airlines, rail, cruise, hotel, resort, and major destination entities have something like 50,000 local travel agents throughout North America selling their products and services.  A consumer can call on any travel agency and obtain immediate information on almost any mode of transport, on almost any travel package, to almost any destination.  One may also call directly to the carrier, such as an airline, or other destination, quickly and easily usually by way of a toll-free telephone line.  In addition consumers can readily access this same information in the comfort of their own home or office by way of the Internet.  In fact, North American consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet to plan and oftentimes book much of their transportation and vacation needs. 

Consumers of today enjoy instant access to information for all major modes of passenger transportation and vacation travel, save and except for the bus industry!

While it is true that transit information is usually available to the local population and that school bus transportation is easily accessed through the local school authority, members of the public do not have ready or easy access to most bus services.  In fact few people are even aware of the many services available within the bus industry.  

Very few travel agencies sell bus tours, charters, or scheduled intercity transportation services.  There is little or no pooling of bus industry passenger services such as one finds in the airline industry.  Call up a bus company, and if they don't happen to have the specific service you need, they usually can't help you, and often are unable, or worse sometimes unwilling to refer you to another bus company who may offer the desired service.

In a very real sense the bus industry tends to operate in a sort of consumer vacuum, generally waiting for business to come through the door.  The bus industry tends to survive on its current customer base, and has great difficulty in attracting new business, or to develop and market new products and services.
For a potential customer, it can often take a great deal of time and effort to source out a desired bus service.  The yellow pages are usually considered a good starting point.  However, there is such a broad range of bus services that yellow page directories cannot possibly create separate listings for every conceivable type of bus service, so they try to condense listings to the minimum.  Have you ever tried to look up a specific bus service in the yellow pages?  The result can become very confusing, requiring multiple telephone inquiries and often a little detective work for good measure.  

If one desires intercity transportation or any kind of travel/vacation package, the most likely source of information would be a local travel agency, but as we all know few travel agencies carry bus transportation or travel packages.  And of course they will try to dissuade a person out of bus service, and into something they can sell.

Much of the bus industry mainstream of services is simply not easily accessible to consumers.  These include intercity bus passenger service, travel packages, vacation packages, tours, shuttle services to airports, special events transportation, various community-based transportation services, contract and group services, and special needs. 

And few people are aware of the wide array of services available - such as the ability to rent various types of buses and coaches for special occasions, and the types of bus equipment that are now available.  How many consumers are familiar with such things as limo buses and limo coaches?  How many know that it is possible to hire a bus or coach for a day or for longer, or get together with a group of friends and organize their own golf or ski vacation, using a bus or coach unit?  What percentage of North American adults has even set foot on a modern motorcoach – it’s in fact something like 3% of the population?  If that figure is anywhere accurate, then as an industry we definitely have quite a marketing challenge ahead of us!
Now if you feel that there is a lack of adequate consumer "accessibility" to local bus services, then you will definitely agree that it becomes almost an impossible challenge to access information on bus services outside one's local area.

Passenger transportation - the essence of our service, is to provide people with the means to travel from one place to another place.  It follows then that they need to search out travel and transportation information not only from where they are, but also to where they wish to go.  Not long ago my daughter took a flight out to the East Coast of Canada, to visit a friend who lives about 100 miles from the nearest major airport.  Although she was aware that there is intercity coach service directly linked to a bus shuttle service serving that airport, she couldn't recall the exact name of that coach company. Tried as she did she was unable to identify or contact them.  She had to make alternate and less convenient arrangements.  Wouldn't it have been far easier for her, if she could quickly access that service and book a connecting reservation ahead of time with that coach company before she left?  

Clearly, all major modes of passenger transportation and the travel trade/vacation industry over many years has developed a sophisticated sales network, partly based on the more than 50,000 travel agencies that can be found in almost every town and village throughout North America.  These competing industries have developed good consumer relations, profile, image, and excellent consumer awareness of their products and services, and unlike the bus industry, has enjoyed the advantages of excellent consumer "accessibility". 
Equally clear is the fact that the bus industry as an industry has failed to develop an effective sales network.  It has been ineffective in its ability to market and sell a vast array of bus services and products provided by the many thousands of bus companies throughout North America.

This is in part why over a thirty-five year period (1960 to mid-90's) all modes of intercity passenger transportation revenues grew by an average of 2,562%, compared to bus revenue growth of only 259%; this according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Transportation Statistics, published in 1996.

Fortunately for the bus industry, a great deal of light has appeared at the end of the tunnel - and it is in the form of the Internet.  Consumers are turning more and more to the Internet to access transportation and travel information, and significantly reducing their reliance on that sophisticated sales and marketing network consisting of 50,000-plus travel agencies.  If this trend continues, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, this opens up entire new opportunities for the bus industry.  In effect it serves to "level the playing field" for the bus industry.

Firstly the Internet levels the playing field between entire industries, and allows equal consumer access whether an airline service, cruise line, or bus service.  The Internet also "levels the playing field" between big business and small business.  It’s incredibly low cost allows every business - large and small to enjoy the same "consumer accessibility" to goods and services.

Even the smallest bus operator, with only a few buses, to the largest of bus fleets, can present and market its services equally well on the Internet. 

However, there is still one major drawback!  There are many millions of company websites in every conceivable industry, product, and service, all out there trying to reach the consumer.  Even the most sophisticated "keyword" search engines, can only distill searches down to oftentimes several thousand possibilities.  Few people have the patience needed to scroll down through more than a dozen or so entries.  Therefore finding a specific site or service is still a remote and a very random possibility.  The Internet is a giant morass of information, however, at the same time it is a formidable communications vehicle that can provide instant consumer access.

One possibility would be the creation of an industry-wide Internet "Portal", or "Gateway" to industry information and services.  By establishing a consumer "Gateway" to the bus industry in which consumers can access a "National Directory of Bus Services” linking every individual subscribing company’s website, and incorporating a search engine that can identify and short-list an infinite range of services in every locale, it puts the entire bus industry and every individual bus company, large or small, at the fingertips of North America’s 300+ million consumers and corporations.

The incredible power of the Internet can make this happen!