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Bus and Motor Coach Library

The Importance of Industry Skills Training         

Authored by Dr. John Cunningham (2001)

Dr. John D. Cunningham has served for the last five years as a key researcher, consultant, and faculty member at The George Washington University's (Washington, DC) Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management and International Institute of Tourism Studies. 
            The International Institute of Tourism Studies is world renowned for its domestic and international research projects involving "cutting edge" issues in the travel and tourism industries.  Major research projects undertaken by the Institute have led to unparalleled growth and opportunity for a number of industries, including some milestone research studies for the airline and hotel industries.  During his tenure with the Department and Institute Dr. Cunningham worked on University sponsored consulting projects focusing on tourism management and growth strategies for: Loudoun Tourism Council, Prince William County, VA; the National Tourism Organization of St. Lucia; and, as sub-contractor to a US Agency for International Development project along the Red Sea Coast (Egypt).
            Dr. Cunningham earned a Doctor of Education degree from The George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development and served as Director of the Accelerated Master of Tourism Administration program for two years.  Dr. Cunningham is a Marriott Scholar and recipient of the Sage Hospitality Resources Award for Leadership and Outstanding Contributions to the Tourism Industry.

Although there have been thousands of studies in passenger transportation and tourism, particularly in air, rail, cruise, and hotel sectors, very little information is available which pertains to the motorcoach industry in Canada and the United States.  In fact, the recent Motorcoach Census 2000 study commissioned by the ABA (April 2000) is one of the few studies that contain any detailed information about the intercity bus segment in the United States and Canada. 

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. D.O.T), Intercity Bus 1, a major segment of the motorcoach industry, has not kept pace with the growth of most other intercity transportation modes.  Total intercity transportation revenue in the United States increased by 2,562 percent between 1960 and mid-1990.           

During this same time period, revenue for intercity air travel increased by 4,300 percent and revenue for those modes designated as "other" increased by 7,570 percent.   Conversely, Intercity Bus 1 and rail transportation revenue increased by only 259 percent and 113 percent, respectively.  

The fact that U.S. D.O.T. figures show that intercity air travel increased by more than 16 times, and other forms by almost 30 times that of intercity bus travel indicates that this segment seems to lack a competitive edge over other methods of intercity travel.  This probably has also had an impact on the profitability of the motorcoach industry as well.  Some gains for the motorcoach market have been made in the tour and charter segment through product enhancements and creative marketing strategies.  However, it appears evident that more needs to be done by the motorcoach industry to stimulate greater competitiveness, increase market share, and increase profitability. 

There are of course many facets involved in building a more competitive industry; however, customer service standards, industry "best practices", and a high level of industry skills and training are regarded as being essential elements by most industries. However, our preliminary studies indicate that the motorcoach industry, with the exception of several internal maintenance, safety training programs, and tour guide certification, shows little evidence of an industry-wide thrust to address the education and training needs of the industry

An indication of the importance that business places on skills and training lies in the fact that in so many fields, these are validated through industry licensing and certification to a measured standard.  This is particularly true of the airline, cruise, and hotel industries, and to a large degree has been a major contributor to their tremendous growth, and their ability to successfully capitalize on new market opportunities. 

The baby boom generation is regarded as a significant market driver as it has already had a significant impact on the way the cruise and resort industries do business.  Through successful marketing, product packaging, and other innovations these industries have captured a significant portion of the baby boom market, with what used to be a seniors dominated customer base.  Examples of product enhancements that have appealed to the baby boom market include all-inclusive resorts such as "Sandals" and "Club Med", and cooperative packages between airlines, resort hotels and eco-tourism based destination attractions.  

On-going skills and training programs provided some of the necessary expertise for these industries to successfully recognize and adapt to market changes.  Consequently the motorcoach industry has largely missed out on a decade in which competing industries have already made substantial gains in capturing a greater share of the baby-boomer market.  Most other industries continue to focus their resources on upgrading the skills of their workforce.  This movement has not been observed on a wide scale in the motorcoach industry, and it continues to lose ground to the other major forms of transportation and travel.

Our preliminary studies reveal that there are trends in the marketplace that may provide a great deal of potential for the motorcoach industry.  However, a comprehensive program of research and analysis is needed to determine to what extent and how might these potentials be realized.  Some trends include airport congestion and flight fatigue which may prompt travelers to look at other inter-city travel options; that consumers today prefer shorter rather than longer duration vacations; the increasing consumer travel needs between point-to-point centers within large urban corridors; and an increasing preference for more active leisure pursuits. 

It appears that a dichotomy exists in the motorcoach industry.  Modern motorcoaches are very luxurious, offering more space and luxury than many competing modes of transportation, including commercial aircraft.  Why then, does this industry continue to lose ground to these other transportation modes?

It may also be noteworthy that the motorcoach industry, with some exceptions, seems to have little influence in the travel industry.  Rather than actively taking part in developing and marketing motorcoach travel products, it allows itself to be a supplier/renter of vehicles to the travel industry.

I have offered these observations to provoke your thoughts and ideas.  They are preliminary in nature, and would require more meaningful study and analysis.        

It appears that, although there is ample opportunity and potential for substantial growth and prosperity, the motorcoach industry fundamentally lacks the necessary tools to be able to successfully improve its market position.  These tools must first include the development of higher industry skill levels and industry expertise, and the creation of appropriate industry standards and service levels.

I am confident that the industry is capable of shedding a fifty-year history of mediocre growth if it can successfully adopt the necessary tools and expertise that it needs to become a competitive industry. This vision is shared by many of my colleagues as well.