Robert Shaw, Chair of the Coach Tourism Association, shares the latest updates in coach holidays and travels.
New and exciting destinations
The shows ABBA Voyage and Mamma Mia have gone completely viral and caught people’s imagination, both the older and younger generations. They’re timeless shows and we’re running coach trips aplenty to see them.
Quite a surprise is the growth in coach travel to Northern Ireland which is great value for money, has the Game of Thrones connection and beautiful scenery. Belfast is a fashionable, young, vibrant city, especially in the new Cathedral area with all the and attractions.
Liverpool is as popular as ever and this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has given it boost too.
Another growth area is the interest in Royal Palaces following the coronation, with its amazing pageantry which the British do so well. People are keen to get out and look at these amazing places.
Disneyland Paris is proving a big success too. We’re seeing that people are keen to have the same experience that Disneyworld Florida provides, for less cost and less time spent travelling.
Trips to the Dutch bulb fields, the Keukenhof Park, was one of the original coach trips overseas and is still very much a favourite for coach tours. And trips to Scotland for journeys by rail through the Highlands are always high up on the list too.
Post pandemic people are looking around at our four nations and realising that we have great cities to visit. And the smaller regional towns have really upped their game in terms of hospitality and attractions, so coach tour operators are putting these places on their itineraries now. People want to take a larger number of small breaks it seems, with something to look forward to more often. The coach holiday industry fulfils this need well.
Italy is continually a firm favourite, places such as Lake Garda and Sorrento. Most journeys take an overnight break in eastern France or Germany, some even have two overnights. You might, for example, stay in Lake Garda then travel down to Sorrento, returning after your holiday through one of the Italian cities. Or you could stay in one of the many spa resorts as a base and explore the country from there. Interestingly the Italian seaside resorts are undersold in the UK; places like Rimini and Riccione which have amazing beaches. Or Viareggio and Diano Marina, close to the French Rivera, right down to Porto Fino and Cinque Terre, where there’s lots to see and do. And if you really like a coach journey, why not travel all the way to Sicily?
Most coaches will have wheelchair access within five years, making the UK’s coach industry unique in Europe. This gives older and disabled travellers confidence to take holidays. Seat comfort has improved and engines are quieter.
And what you don’t see is that they are even more environmentally friendly than ever: all coaches now conform to the Euro 6 emission standard. Electric coaches are sadly quite a way off, due to the challenge of their mileage range. It’s fine for short distances from say, Heathrow to Central London or Coventry to Leicester but not viable for longer distances. The weight of the batteries is huge and there’s the issue of charging points too.
The target of no internal combustion engines by 2030 is a long shot, however it might happen. There’s no doubt these issues are becoming important to our customers. However, with regard to the green footprint when travelling by coach, it’s five times more fuel efficient than flying. And even greener than train travel.
Ferry ports and Brexit
What happened at Dover in early April 2023, was a very specific incident, involving coach travel to European ski resorts. Just after the Easter holidays, schools and colleges head for the slopes, for great value accommodation at the end of the ski season. And they all want to go on the same ferries at the same time, so there’s a real pinch point with hundreds of coaches descending to Dover together. It was a really unique situation.
The actual issue is that, post-Brexit, everyone has to have their passport stamped when they enter the EU to ensure they don’t spend more than 90 days in Schengen area in any period of 180 days. This means getting off the coach and getting a physical stamp, which holds up journeys about 20minutes. Naturally the same thing happens at Calais on the reverse journey. And there is nothing to be done about it until Europe gets their equivalent of the American ESTA. Plans are afoot for this, however the 27 Schengen area nations will need to agree how this works exactly. It’s a bureaucratic problem for sure. What we do know is that Brits will have to pay for the visa although hopefully, it will last a few years.
It’s only at pinch points that passport stamping is a serious issue. Measures have been put in place by the various harbour authorities and it’s actually better now. Easter and Spring Bank Holiday in 2023 went off well. Things may be tricky on the odd busy weekend in the school summer holidays.
Post pandemic delays seem to be part of life if you’re travelling, and certainly at airports or on trains, people seem to somehow accept it. Eurostar has the same issue: the border points weren’t built with the space needed for the amount of people currently travelling through them.
Why take a coach holiday?
It is excellent value, and young people are discovering this too. A coach holiday package really saves money over the cost of flights, trains and hotels, with comfortable accommodation included.
There’s no better way of seeing the scenery – you’re higher up with big windows, which is great for watching the world outside.
And it’s like being chauffeured, so very relaxing with no hassle. Coach holidays are particularly easy in a destination that’s unfamiliar. You don’t have to navigate or worry about parking – in fact, all the stress is taken away!