On the road again…

This is a follow-up to an article that ran on Oct 17th of 2020.

It seems now that more than 50 percent of American adults are vaccinated, people are once again interested in going to museums, restaurants, beaches and theaters. However, there is one essential sector of the economy that has not yet been able to make a comeback, in fact, it is still struggling just to survive.

The U.S. motorcoach industry was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This industry, which until 2020 moved 600 million passengers annually – nearly as many passengers as the domestic airlines – came to a standstill in March 2020. Today, more than 16 months into the pandemic, motorcoach companies are seeing fewer than 30 percent of their business return.  Many of the industry’s 100,000 employees are still out of work, these are skilled workers such as mechanics, drivers, and administrative workers, who are still unable to come back to their jobs because their businesses have yet to fully re-open their doors.

More than 25 percent of the motorcoach industry has gone under since the pandemic hit and that number could reach as high as 40 percent. More than 800 small, family-owned businesses are no longer able to serve their communities.

We spoke again with several local bus and tour companies in the Columbia market about their experience since the beginning of the pandemic.

Capitol Tours – West Columbia, SC

Buddy and Mary Young along with their son Matt Young own Capitol Tours in West Columbia. This family-owned business has been in operation since 1981. The company offers tours for senior citizen groups, school groups, civic organizations, family reunions, businesses, churches, youth groups, musical groups as well as charter operations.

Mary Young said, “We’ve worked very hard to get back to normal.” “We have been extremely fortunate to have a Department of Defense contract transporting the military and this has allowed us to keep our drivers and staff busy during the pandemic.” “We are excited to see the traveling public starting to come back and there is some pent-up demand for tours starting to increase, although it is still nothing like were are used to.”

Capitol Tours has run several trips recently into the North Carolina mountains as well as a recent trip to Lake Jocassee and has several more on the books. As tour destinations open back up there will be more opportunities to put trips together. Capitol Tours has a Travel Club to keep everyone informed about upcoming trips.

Capitol Tours follows all CDC guidelines concerning sanitizing the buses and everyone wears masks while on the buses.

While Capitol Tours is seeing an uptick in activity and is grateful that business seems to be turning around, it is nowhere near the activity levels seen in 2019 and it may be well into the Spring of 2022 before the business is back to normal.

Capitol Tours and the Young’s want to assure the traveling public that they are alive and well, open for business and want everyone to know that if the bus can go there, they are ready to take you there.

C & S Tours – Irmo, SC

Established in 2013, C&S Tours works with the “groups” segment of the market. Schools, churches, senior groups and the military make up the majority of the company’s clients. Also popular are the company’s bi-monthly Cherokee Casino trips to Cherokee NC. With the pandemic, C&S Tours has not run a trip since March.

According to Sharla Savage, Operations Manager, “Congress finally passed the CERTS program and we are waiting to see how much we qualify for in terms of grants and low-cost loans.” Savage added, “We were fortunate that our vendors have worked with us on suspending insurance coverage and deferring bus payments during this time, but those deferments are coming to an end and we are having to take a look at how much revenue we can generate.” “This is a critical point for us.”

While the company is receiving more calls for quotes on trips from both the general public and corporate travel, Savage does not see the current situation improving until Spring or Summer 2022.

On a positive note, C&S started a new market with Venues Visits. Each Venue Visits tour will take you to venues around Columbia and the surrounding areas. Each venue is decorated to provide you with inspiration to make your wedding or event a one-of-a-kind experience.

This new service will provide the opportunity for brides-to-be a tour of multiple venues in a single day. C&S Tours will transport participants via its luxury motorcoach from one venue to the next. Each venue and its representatives will be on hand to support you as you begin your wedding planning process. Venues will also have preferred vendors like caterers, florists, DJs, cake designers, and more for tastings, inspiration,  and to answer questions.

There were several trips planned in the Spring of this year and several more for the Fall.

Cole’s Tours and Travel – Columbia, SC

Cole’s Tours & Travel is a charter bus company in Columbia owned and operated by Chris Cole. The company has operated for nearly 15 years in the market. As an independent owner-operator, much of Cole’s business is schools, churches, senior groups, and family groups.

“I haven’t done a trip since March 14th, 2020 and I don’t have any trips currently on the books”, says Cole.

While Cole has had some inquiries on upcoming trips he says that it is not enough for him to bring the bus back into operation. The cost of insurance and maintenance does not yet warrant starting up again.

Cole also does not see the situation improving before the Spring or Summer of 2022.

Cole has a Class A CDL license, which has allowed him to have a backup employment opportunity of driving a tractor-trailer he says, “I really miss the bus and the relationship with the groups of passengers.”

When the motorcoach industry gets back to normal we can feel good about the tourism industry as a whole, because when tourism is good, South Carolina prospers. While some industry leaders predict the motorcoach industry will have a slow recovery and will not be back to full strength before 2023,  it is a good sign to see these buses on the road again…

Photo Credit: Daniel Wool