It’s time to support your local coach operator

Whilst most GTOs look for reassurances that taking their group out on a day trip or short break will be safe, coach operators are facing their own challenges. Wendy Hartley-Scarff, chief executive of the Association of Group Travel Organisers, explains what’s happening, and why now’s the time to be supporting your local operator.

These are extremely challenging times for everyone, but do spare a thought for coach operators. With state-of-the-art coaches, often worth more than £300,000 each sitting idle in a yard, many operators are facing financial ruin. Indeed, some have already closed down, often bringing to an end a lifetime’s work of one or more generations of the same family.

If that sounds rather dramatic it’s meant to be! Family-run coach operators, the mainstay of the UK’s coach industry, find themselves, through no fault of their own, having to lay staff off, or simply close the yard gates for a final time.

Having said all that, there is some good news. With care, many day trips and short breaks have started to operate again. In the autumn issue of the quarterly AGTO Magazine we feature reports on a short break to Torquay from the West Midlands operated by Dunwood Travel, and what Johnsons Coach Travel of Henley-in-Arden in Warwickshire is doing to reassure GTOs that coach travel is safe.

Both of these coach operators are AGTO Associate members. Both are rightly using their membership to get their safety messages in front of more than 450 GTO members.

And getting that message across is important. GTOs and their groups want to get out and about again, and many are now doing just that, but only if the reassurances about COVID-secure transport and hospitality are there.

If you haven’t done so already, talk to your local coach operator and find out what it’s doing. It desperately needs your business, because without it, it may not be there this time next year.

“Ah, but”, I hear you say. “We can only take 25 people on a full-size coach. We still have to pay full price for the coach hire, so our 25 members will each have to pay more.”

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard this mentioned many times. I smile and remind the GTO there’s a pandemic on. These are anything but usual times.

The coach operator can’t afford to lose money. Indeed, the costs of buying in additional sanitising and cleaning fluids, and having to pay drivers more because having to prepare and clean their coach means they’re now working longer hours, all adds up.

Some operators aren’t passing these additional costs on to the GTO. But some have little choice. In turn, I would argue that it seems perfectly reasonable for a GTO to ask members to pay an extra few pounds a head if it means they can all get out and about again. Many GTOs tell me they’re doing just that, and it’s fine. One GTO told me that a member had made the point that not being able to travel over the last six months meant they hadn’t spent very much, so the money was sitting in the account.

Whatever your own situation, finding a way to support your local coach operator, and in so doing, giving your group the opportunity to get out and about, seems like a step in the right direction.