The irrepressible Robert Shaw, an unsung hero perhaps, spoke to Jennie Carr, in early 2021, about coach tourism.
JC: First of all, can you tell me what exactly the Coach Tourism Association is, please?
RS: It’s an industry body that has 300 members all related to coach tourism including attractions, tourist boards, insurers and of course, the coach operators themselves. It provides links and sources of information for all those involved in the industry.
And for the travelling public, through ‘We Love Coaches’ you can search on your county to find coach holiday providers near to you. You then book locally, which is great for creating connections, meaning you leave from near home (even at times from your own front door) and is good for repeat business too. The website also provides ideas, thoughts and inspirations for coach trips that you may not have thought of before.
JC: Some may say it’s not a fashionable holiday, however I’m told about 5 million people take some kind of coach holiday each year.
RS: Coach trips are hugely popular. Members of our association take some people on a different holiday every month. And for others, it’s one element of their total annual holiday spend, maybe they also cruise, fly long haul, have a week in Spain with a 5-day UK coach trip too.
Did you know that around 27,000 people are employed by coach tourism? And there’s a spend of £14 billion within the industry, so it’s very important to the overall economy.
JC: How has business been since the pandemic began? Has it been a nightmare?
RS: The last big event before the March 2020 lockdown was the Cheltenham Festival, after that coach tourism was not allowed to operate. From late August there were a few coach holidays and day trips until the end of October 2020. And since then our members didn’t turn a wheel until 17 May 2021, which meant that revenue has declined by about 90% in the last 12 months.
JC: Exactly what will coach operators being doing to ensure Covid safety once the wheels do start turning again?
RS: All the measures required by Government are being implemented: face masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing. Plus we are asking people to sit in their bubble, not next to strangers or new friends. The seats directly behind the driver will be left empty too. We are also doing all we can to get good air flows through the coach to ensure any rogue particles are removed as soon as possible.
JC: Tell me what sort of trips the members of the Coach Tourism Association offer.
RS: Typically, our passengers love trips to be by the sea, so seaside resorts are our number 1 destinations: Blackpool, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Skegness, Torquay and Sidmouth, there are many more! In recent years there has been huge investment in these coastal towns, so I expect that they’ll experience a boom whilst people prefer to stay in the UK.
Then there are areas of natural beauty, found in Scotland, Wales, the Yorkshire Dales and so on. These coach trips are more popular than ever, you get a far better view from a coach as you’re higher up, and you can really enjoy the view as you’re not driving! A tour of the Scottish Highlands, for example, is complicated to organise yourself, expensive for two people in a car and a coach holiday will take you to the best sites.
Other well-loved trips are to theme parks such as Alton Towers or zoos like Longleat and Twycross. Then there are visits to heritage railways like the Carlisle to Seattle route. Or a day trip to a major city, in York you can enjoy a Ghost Tour and in London there’s a Jack the Ripper tour. And in Coventry, my hometown and Capital of Culture this year, there’s the Turner exhibition, motor museum and iconic cathedral on offer. So coach trips don’t just involve sitting and looking.
5-day holidays often offer extras such as local river cruises for an afternoon, such as on Loch Lomond or up the River Dart when in Devon. A steam train journey might also feature on the trip.
Trips to see shows in West End and regional theatres are cheaper than by train and there’s no parking or arguments with the sat nav. Going see Andre Riu classical concerts is fabulously popular too, he seems to have replaced Cliff Richard these days.
We take people to Warner Leisure Hotels across the UK and Potters Resort in Norfolk. And then there’s shopping, easy by coach to Bicester Village or Cheshire Oaks with huge amounts of storage for your spoils.
Interestingly, the coach is probably the best value way to travel to Disneyland Paris. There are weekly trips to Spain, tours of Italy and Austria with its unbelievable scenery.
And modern coaches are very comfortable indeed. This is a gentle way to get somewhere, without too much effort and with, mainly, a great view. Add to which you can have a snooze and being driven is just lovely.
JC: Who are your typical customers? We might have stereotypical thoughts on this.
RS: We’re looking at the ‘Greta* generation’ because coach travel is very green and should appeal to the younger generation. Our passengers start in their cradles almost with theme parks and attractions, then in time, as adults, they progress to European trips, West End Shows and shopping trips. As time goes on, they decide to stick with UK coach travel, and we honestly see people travel with us into their 90s. We quite literally take our customers through the product range.
Interestingly, low-cost airlines might not be so cheap anymore, so travelling by coach may well be more cost-effective and easier. There’s no going to the airport, drivers put your suitcase on the coach and often the next time you see it is in the hotel room. Vehicles are smart and state of the art with onboard loos, so there’s no need to wait for a comfort break.
And the future for coach tourism is bright, very positive to my mind. Why not try a short break coach holiday, it’s excellent value and a super way to spend a few days, it doesn’t need to be your main holiday. Enjoy yourself, meet people, mingle, spend a few days somewhere new.
*reference to Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish environmental activist