Are green shoots of growth finally returning to the coach industry? That is difficult to answer conclusively. With the possibility of ‘local lockdowns’ over coming months, the situation may be different depending on which part of the country an operator is in.
But in England generally, many scrambled to restore their day trip and holiday programmes almost as soon as Boris Johnson finished his announcement that 4 July represented ‘Super Saturday’. At least one of those operators quickly reported that it had filled several coaches. While that is in the context of revised capacities, it nevertheless gives some hope for what remains of the season.
Meanwhile, scheduled coaching comes back strong this week. National Express restarts its network on 1 July, new entrant Flixbus UK commences the next day and Megabus gets back to business in England and Wales the day after that.
A further coach operator says its reopened day trip programme has generated major interest. It will use window seats only unless for family groups. Around 25 passengers represents break-even. Above that, it is into profit – a word that has been alien to many since March.
The latter operator is now busy preparing its coaches for a return to the road. A ‘fogging’ machine is set to work overtime and other steps have been put in place to ensure the safety of those who travel over the coming weeks and months.
Equally important as taking those steps is ensuring that customers know they have been taken. Now is the time to promote the coach industry and what it had done to ensure safe operation.
Many travel industry commentators expect that ‘staycations’ will be in vogue for the medium term at least. While the hole created by almost four months’ lost income at the busiest time of the year will not be something that is easily filled, it’s now time to turn to the future and focus on getting business back.
Hopes for government support for coaches are receding, despite the sterling efforts that have gone into making a case. But the will to part with their money is clearly still there among customers. Leveraging that and driving growth is by far the best way to put the coach industry back on the long road to good health.