COVID-19: Industry feels the pressure

Coronavirus is the most severe threat to the coach and bus industry in decades, with some operators suffering huge losses

The coronavirus pandemic situation is changing hourly as more and more government guidelines and rules are set down. It’s bad, but today’s situation could yet be the tip of the iceberg for operators battling cancellations, a drop in bookings and loss of revenue.

In last week’s Budget the government announced measures to support small businesses during the coronavirus crisis. It will refund Statutory Sick Pay for up to 14 days for each employee who is unable to work as a result of coronavirus.

“It’s not going to pay the bills if they shut the schools down is it?” says Jordan Ridley of Ridleys Coaches.

“We have lost about £300,000 worth of business since mid-January when the tours started getting cancelled. Loads of corporate work has been cancelled and now schools are cancelling left, right and centre.”

Russell Sharpe, Director of Sharpes of Nottingham, says: “It’s a really difficult time for us at the moment.

“We’ve just had around £45,000 worth of work shut down because of Italy. The cancellation of skiing trips has affected 4,000 clients and eight departures. This creates a problem for us because we have coaches sat in the yard that should be working.”

On the government help Russell adds: “Anything is better than nothing, but is that going to really have a big impact on us?

“We don’t have any employees that have contracted COVID-19 at the moment. We’re trying to follow the procedures in cleanliness and hand sanitisers to stay as safe as possible.

“I’m very nervous to be honest. This is not good for business and not good for our industry.

“Look at the bigger picture. What is the effect going to be, on a business that relies on transporting people around to venues and places, and to go on holiday? That’s probably all going to stop for a period of time. Basically, it’s going to put us on hold.”

Massive impact

Tina Shaw-Morton, Joint Managing Director of Woods Travel, says: “Coronavirus is affecting business badly.

“In just one day we had to cancel a tour to Italy in April, a day trip to London, a school trip this month and downsize a coach to France as so many people have dropped out.

“A man who booked a coach for a football match in April wants to know if he will get his money back if the match is cancelled or closed to supporters.

“Another group who were going to France for five days have cancelled and decided to go next year instead.”

The operator says scores of customers on coach holidays are cancelling at deposit stage and expect to be able to transfer to something else at no cost or get a full refund.

Ms Shaw-Morton adds: “We are also a travel agency. One member of our sales staff cancelled eight cruises in just one day.

“Staff members with coughs and colds are staying at home resulting in us being short staffed at a time of high call volumes and cancellations.”

Twitter explodes

Many operators have been tweeting about the serious effects the virus has had on their business. Greys of Ely’s tweeted: “Many operators have lost more than 50% of their business – support is urgently needed.”

The government is in talks with rail and airline chiefs to put emergency measures in place to deal with falling passenger numbers. But operators want to see the same thing happening in the coach and bus industry.

Anthony’s Travel tweeted: “The coronavirus is the most serious challenge to face the coach industry. While we pride ourselves on being a resilient industry we really do need the help of the government or vital services will be lost, it isn’t just airlines who need support.”

Jeakins Coach Travel tweeted: “We have lost a large percentage of our workload due to coronavirus. We need some support too. The majority of UK coach operators are small independent family companies, not PLCs like train companies and airlines who haven’t lost the same patronage but have more available funds.”

Maynes Coaches tweeted: “We see the funds being being handed out to the air and rail industry, what about the private coach industry? Family run companies over generations are being left with nothing as the tourism, sporting and travel industry goes into lockdown? Some operators are losing £100,000 a day.”

Being proactive

In response to the crisis the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has taken action and requested support from government for the sector, to help alleviate some of the impacts of the pandemic.

CPT is talking to operators and gathering data about the effect the virus is having on their businesses.

“We are asking our coach and bus members to share any data they have in relation to the impact coronavirus is having on their businesses,” says a spokesman.

“This data will help us make the case to the government for support for the industry in what we know is and will continue be a difficult period.

“Any member that is able to share any data, in particulary linked to passenger numbers of cancelled bookings, should contact their CPT Regional Manager.”

Will the industry survive? Berkeley Coaches tweeted: “93 years of trading from the same depot and I’m damned if this company will go down. Just keep on doing whatever you can. As an industry we can get through this.”