Tag: coach

Directors of Leger Holidays acquire 30% stake in business

Escorted holiday specialist Leger Holidays has announced that director Liam Race, finance director Andrew Oldfield and operations director Chris Plummer have acquired a 30% stake in the business.

The acquisition, which has been achieved with backing from NatWest, reduces the shareholding held by Ian and Kathleen Henry to 70%.

Leger Holidays

Commenting on the acquisition, in an announcement posted on b2b social network LinkedIn today, Liam Race says: “This is an exciting time for the business. We’ve seen a solid start to January with bookings for 2020 up 17%. As well as focusing on continual improvement to our customers’ holiday experiences we will be looking to grow sales through travel agents with additional presence in our on-the-road sales team.”

Travel Weekly reports Ian Henry as saying: “This transaction ensures that the business has the continued ownership of the Henry family but also brings on board the next generation of managers and owners meaning we can continue together to strengthen and grow the business over the coming years. I will remain active in the business, but as has been happening over the last twelve months, Liam, Chris and Andy will be leading us on a day to day basis.”

The Rotherham-based company is reported to have turned over nearly £35m in 2019.

Leger Holidays was awarded ‘Best Medium Coach Holiday Company’ at the British Travel Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.


CTA plans “major charm offensive” to promote coach tourism

The Coach Tourism Association looks set to announce a new public relations initiative that will raise awareness of the benefits of coach tourism.

Trade magazine Bus & Coach Buyer reports (2 August 2019) Helen Bowron, communications director with the Coach Tourism Association (CTA) saying that plans have now been laid for a major charm offensive to promote coach tourism throughout the UK. No details are included in the report, but it is expected that an announcement will be made in the next few weeks.

The news reflects changes taking place at the CTA under chairman John Wales.


Coach Tourism Association

Wendy Wright, Morecambe & Wise, and 25 years of the Southport meet and greet

This year sees the 25th anniversary of the introduction of Southport’s famous ‘Meet and Greet’ for groups, these days better known as the Southport Welcome.

In 1994 the tourist office brought together a team of ‘Coach Welcome Hosts’ to meet and greet coaches and groups arriving in the town centre on day trips.

Southport meet and greet
This spring, Wendy Wright will celebrate 25 years of welcoming groups to Southport

Located at the main coach drop-off point in Eastbank Street Square, close to the main shopping thoroughfare of Lord Street, and operating from April to October, the team hand out leaflets, maps and discount vouchers, helping to ensure that groups make the most of their visit.

Over the years the members of the team have become the ‘face’ of Southport, and have become well known by coach drivers, group travel organisers and regular visitors.

But one face stands out. Wendy Wright is the only member of the original team and this year will celebrate her 25th anniversary as a Coach Welcome Host.

But although Wendy is well known to visitors, she’s been a familiar face to the people of Southport since the 1960s when she first appeared as a Bunny Girl at the Kingsway Club, a major entertainment venue in the town.


Southport welcome
Wendy Wright as a ‘Bunny Girl’ at Southport’s Kingsway Club

As a dancer, Wendy shared the limelight with the A-listers of the day, including The Beatles, Cilla Black, Engelbert Humperdink, Tom Jones and Norman Wisdom.

Southport welcome
Wendy with Norman Wisdom

Southport welcome
“Norman Wisdom was my favourite”

“Norman Wisdom was my favourite,” says Wendy. “He was a lovely man, such a quiet, gentle man.”

The Kingsway Bunny Girls had a hectic schedule.

“We used to learn the routines on the Sunday for the rest of the week. A new routine every week. It was hard work, but fun, and we used to meet all the stars.”

In 1965, Wendy also appeared in panto with Morecambe and Wise at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre as the understudy to the female lead in a production of ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

Southport Welcome
Wendy, left, with Morecambe & Wise

“It was a lot of fun,” she says. “I did all the rehearsals with them. There was a lot of ad-libbing with them. I also appeared with Ken Dodd when he was at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool.”

Southport welcome
Wendy worked with Ken Dodd at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool

2019 not only sees Wendy’s 25th anniversary, but also sees another significant milestone in group travel to the town.

“Each year, Southport welcomes around 4,000 coaches that come to the town on day trips, short breaks and longer holidays,” says Steve Christian, Destination Development Manager with Visit Southport. “Our records don’t go back to 1994, but what we do know is that looking at the last 10 years, 2019 looks set to see our two millionth visitor arriving by coach. Wendy’s enthusiasm and commitment have played a significant role in making Southport an attractive destination for groups. Later in the year we will be celebrating her anniversary and our two millionth visitor.”

Southport welcome
Steve Christian celebrating 25 years of the Southport Welcome

For more information about group visits to Southport, and the ‘Southport Welcome’, go to


Coach tourism excellence recognised at the British Coach Tourism Awards 2019

The UK’s leading coach tour operators, destinations, visitor attractions, hotels and tourism industry suppliers were honoured at the British Coach Tourism Awards 2019.

British Coach Tourism Awards

The prestigious event, which recognises excellence across the coach tourism community, was held at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham on 20 March.

The cathedral city of Wells and The Bishop’s Palace, the Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton, Planet Hollywood, Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, Warner Leisure Hotels, P&O Ferries, Ullswater Steamers and Greatdays Travel Group all saw off stiff competition to take home accolades. In the coach tour operator categories the top awards went to Johnsons Coaches, Acklams Coaches, Masons Minibus & Coach Hire, Bluebird Coaches (Weymouth), United Minibuses & Coaches, Reays Coaches, and Richmond’s Coaches.

Chris Wales, former Coach Tourism Association chief executive, Coach Drivers’ Club president and British Coach Tourism Awards judge, was posthumously presented with the British Coach Tourism Special Recognition Award for his significant contribution to the coach tourism industry.

The annual awards, the only national awards scheme that specifically focuses on coach tourism, were organised by Diversified Communications UK. This year’s celebrity presenter was TV personality Carol Vorderman MBE.

David Maguire, chair of judges and event director of British Coach Tourism Awards says: “Huge congratulations goes to all our winners in this year’s British Coach Tourism Awards. With real emotion among our highly deserving winners and a fantastic atmosphere of celebration, I believe it was one of our best awards yet.

“Once again, the quality of the entries reflected the quality and importance of the amazing coach tourism sector and the inspiring professionals working in it. The awards are a great way to reward them for their hard work and dedication to the UK tourism sector, so it’s an honour to be a part of that. Well done to everyone who took home an award, and a huge thanks to our judges, our partners, and everyone in the industry who supports the event.”

Here’s the full list of winners:

Coach Friendly Destination – partnered by the Coach Tourism Association

Bournemouth & Poole – HIGHLY COMMENDED

Coach Friendly Attraction – partnered by Beverley. East Yorkshire
The Bishop’s Palace, Wells 
New Lanark Mills World Heritage Site – HIGHLY COMMENDED

Cross-Sea Carrier – partnered by Edwards Coach Holidays
P & O Ferries 

River and Inland Cruise Operator – partnered by DFDS
Ullswater Steamers 

Heritage Railway– partnered by City Cruises
Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway 

Accommodation provider (Independent Hotels)– partnered by ICT Group Travel
Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton 

Accommodation Provider (Hotel Groups)– partnered by Bakers Dolphin
Warner Leisure Hotels 
Hallmark Hotels – HIGHLY COMMENDED

Tour Wholesaler and Industry Supplier– partnered by Planet Hollywood and The View from the Shard
Greatdays Travel Group 

Dining Experience – partnered by AGTO (Association of Group Travel Organisers)
Planet Hollywood 
360 Cookhouse – HIGHLY COMMENDED

Coach Holiday Programme – partnered by Distinctive Systems
Reays Coaches 

Day Excursion Programme – partnered by P&O Ferries
Richmond’s Coaches 
Lucketts Travel – HIGHLY COMMENDED

Coach Tourism Innovation of the Year – partnered by Eurotunnel
United Minibuses & Coaches – Online Live Pricing Tool 

Coach Tourism Professional of the Year – partnered by Continuum
Andrew Simpson – Classic Britain Hotels

Coach Tour Driver of the Year – partnered by Roadchef
Ken Cato – Masons Minibus & Coach Hire

Coach Tour Operator – Small Fleet (1-5 coaches) – partnered by Condor Ferries
Acklams Coaches

Coach Tour Operator – Medium Fleet (6-15 coaches) – partnered by Warner Leisure Hotels
Bluebird Coaches (Weymouth) Ltd

Coach Tour Operator – Large Fleet (more than 15 coaches) – partnered by Wrightsure
Johnsons Coaches

The British Coach Tourism Recognition Award
Chris Wales

British Coach Tourism Awards

For more information about the British Coach Tourism Awards, go to www.britishcoachawards.co.uk.


The verdict from the floor
With television presenter and former Channel 4 host Carol Vorderman hosting the evening there was never any likelihood that this year’s British Coach Tourism Awards would be anything other than entertaining. And so it turned out.
From a colourful opening display from the dancers from Blackpool entertainment venue Viva Blackpool, through to Carol reminding audiences why she’s often called Carol ‘Vorderbum’, the evening flowed very well.
With around 400 tourism professionals and guests in the room at the National Motorcycle Museum it’s clear the event continues to be a popular date in the coach tourism calendar.
The event takes place on the first night of the two-day British Tourism & Travel Show at the NEC. This year it was noticeable that many of those attending the awards then took time to visit the show the following day.
This was the 15th year of the awards, a timeline that has seen the event held at the Ricoh Stadium in Coventry, moving to the Holiday Inn in Stratford-upon-Avon, then on to Liverpool Cathedral, Blackpool Tower Ballroom, West Midland Safari Park and Resorts World at the NEC, before finding its current home at the NMM. Under the auspices of Diversified Communications UK, the event benefits from high production values, both in terms of the technical requirements and the associated print.
The presentation of the awards, a sequence honed over these last few years, keeps things moving along.
A well-produced ‘Finalists’ brochure’, placed on tables at the start of the evening, not only gives guests the opportunity to see who’s up for what, but also gives prominent exposure for event partner and supporter branding. With budgets being squeezed, this sort of exposure is what partners and supporters are looking for. A list showing previous winners of each award would be a welcome addition.
So, good food, good entertainment, good attendance, good company and a well-produced show resulted in a successful British Coach Tourism Awards 2019.
And for this writer and coach tourism consultant, to have four clients as finalists, up for a total of six awards, with two outright wins and one highly commended, a very successful evening all round.

National Express reunion 2019

The 22nd National Express reunion took place on Friday 11 January at the Wolverhampton Novotel.

More than 80 former managers of National Express, National Travel and assorted and associated bus and coach companies, including this writer, gathered for a evening of good company and good chat.

The event, which has become a key date in the diary for many of us, is organised by Mike Grant. The after-dinner speech was given by Clive Myers, partly to welcome first-timers to the event, and embarrass them suitably, and partly to bring guests up to date with related events from the past year. It was also an opportunity for Clive to say a few words about colleagues who are no longer with us. This year, our thoughts turned to Tom McLachlan of Grey Green who passed away during the year.

The event brings together an eclectic mix of industry professionals, most of whom have retired, but all of whom have played one role or another in the development of National Express and its associated companies.

The photos that follow provide a snapshot of the event.

Photos and words: Stuart Render

Footnote: After an evening of drinking, eating, chatting, and more drinking, departure from the hotel on the Saturday morning for many, this writer included, can often be later rather than earlier. For those who enjoyed a lie-in, their check-out may have been enhanced with the appearance in the reception area of the ‘lovely’ Debbie McGee, perhaps best known as a participant in the BBC’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and wife of the popular entertainer and magician Paul Daniels, sadly no longer with us. She was appearing in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. Sadly, there wasn’t an opportunity to capture a photo of Ms McGee. However, we can be reasonably confident that her eventual departure from Wolverhampton, at the end of her appearance in panto in the city, probably wasn’t by coach.

National Express



GB coach and tour operators discover Ireland’s hidden gems

Representatives from GB-based coach and tour operators enjoyed a six-day fact finding familiarisation trip to the island of Ireland in September.

UK and Irish coach and group tour operators seen at Blessingbourne Country Estate in Co. Tyrone. Estate owners Colleen and Nick Lowry are front left and right.

The trip, organised by Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland and Failte Ireland, began in Belfast. Hosts Northern Ireland Tourism welcomed the group to Belfast Cathedral for a two-and-a-half hour b2b workshop, bringing coach and tour operators together with representatives from the country’s destinations, visitor attractions, hotels and tourism suppliers. A delicious dinner, complete with magnificent musical entertainment from well-known violinist Eimear Bradley, set the scene for the days that followed.

Well known violinist Eimear Bradley entertained the group at the Tourism Northern Ireland reception held in Belfast Cathedral (Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland)

Highlights of two full days in Northern Ireland included a visit to Blessingbourne Country Estate, a relaxing cruise on Lough Erne on the ‘Lady of the Lake’ as part of the exploration of the picturesque Fermanagh Lakelands, a visit underground to see the spectacular Marble Arch Caves, and a tour of the famous Belleek Pottery.

Tour guide Una explained why Belleek Pottery has become famous across the world

Crossing into the Republic of Ireland, hosts Failte Ireland produced an itinerary focusing on ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’. This included a cookery demonstration at Ghan House in Carlingford, and a visit to the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre near Drogheda. There was an opportunity to bake bread, dance a jig, play a bodhran and milk a cow at Causey Farm, and hear about the filming of ‘Braveheart’ at Trim Castle.

Pauline Bull from Taurus Holidays (left) and Claire Muir from Andrews of Tideswell engage in the mystical art of bread-making at Causey Farm

But it was a visit to Slane Castle, home to the eponymous distillery, and the location for the famous rock concerts, that provided the biggest surprise. Sitting down to the usual ‘welcome’ video inside the castle, we were greeted on screen by the owner Lord Henry Mountcharles. Sitting in a comfy chair, and seemingly without notes, he told the story of the castle, its destruction by fire, and its restoration. It was a remarkable piece of storytelling, and surprisingly emotional, leaving many of the group, and this writer included, with a tear in the eye.

Slane Castle with, out of shot to the right, Slane Distillery. The castle’s ‘welcome’ video has to be one of the best in any visitor attraction, anywhere!

The main part of the trip ended with a b2b workshop held at Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa.

GB coach and group operators (and a blue-shirted writer and tourism consultant) pose for the Failte Ireland photographer before the start of the full-day b2b workshop

Congratulations to the teams from Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland and Failte Ireland for a well organised, enjoyable and informative fam trip.

Here are more photos from the visit:

At Blessingbourne Country Estate in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, close to the border with County Fermanagh, visitors will be met by ‘Lady Mary’. She’s a stern sort, and doesn’t stand any messing about. She also looks disapprovingly at any female guests wearing trousers. “Are you cyclists?” she enquires

The imposing exterior of Blessingbourne

Onwards to the National Trust’s Castle Coole. The transport for the Northern Ireland part of the trip was supplied by Ulsterbus Tours

The ‘Lady of the Lake’, operated by the Manor House Hotel at Killadeas near Enniskillen, takes the group for a relaxing cruise, and lunch, on Lower Lough Erne, the centrepiece of the picturesque Fermanagh Lakelands

More publicity photos for our hosts

This is the Round Tower on Devenish Island, a feature of a boat trip on Lower Lough Erne

Arrival in Enniskillen, the ‘capital’ of the Fermanagh Lakelands

Manor House Country Hotel, situated by Lower Lough Erne

Belleek Pottery, already a well known visitor attraction for many UK-based tour operators

The Belleek crest. Hard to argue with the claim!

Belleek Pottery, off to the left, sits on the border with Co. Donegal and the Republic of Ireland. This is the border, with the road sign showing the speed limit in kilometres the only indication that you’re leaving the UK.

Belleek Pottery is also where Tourism Northern Ireland hands the group over to Failte Ireland (pronounced ‘fault cha’). It’s also time to say goodbye to our Ulsterbus Tours Irizar i6, and board a Volvo 9700 operated by Fureys Tours of Sligo.

Time for a show-round at Slieve Russell Hotel near Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan

At Ghan House in Carlingford, on Ireland’s east coast, there’s an opportunity to watch chef Ronan Lawless demonstrate his culinary skills in preparing mussels and oysters.

Nicely done Ronan!

Back at Belleek Pottery, Failte Ireland welcomed the group with these rather natty orange waterproof jackets carrying the branding for ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’. You’ll see more orange jackets in the following photos! Modelling the range are (l-r) Helen Brown from Leger Holidays, Ruth Gould from Action Tours, and Pauline Bull from Taurus Holidays

The Volvo waits for its morning departure from the modern d-hotel in the east coast town of Drogheda, located 20 minutes or so north of Dublin Airport

The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre tells the story of the famous battle that took place on the site in 1690 between King William III and his father-in-law King James II. The guide sets the scene before leading the group inside

Failte Ireland supplied the group with these natty waterproof jackets. The branding is for ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’, the second of the National Tourism Development Authority’s recent major marketing initiatives. The first was the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’. A third, ‘Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands’ is now being promoted. Each initiative aims to raise awareness of the different parts of the country, and inspire tour planners to take a closer look

A coach parking sign at the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre. What happens if you don’t turn up in a tri-axle isn’t clear!

Onwards to Slane Castle where coaches drop-off by the front door. At this point the group was entering the castle for the first time, completely unaware of the remarkable video that they were about to see! Slane Distillery is located a short distance to the right of the castle

A glimpse inside Slane Castle

Causey Farm, near Navan in Co. Meath, run by the delightful Murtagh family, offers a range of hands-on experiences for groups of all ages. Wearing your orange jacket was optional


Bread-making was first on the schedule, with real eggs being tossed around (look carefully) for the group to catch (and they did!)

Concentration from Claire Muir of Andrews of Tideswell as an egg approaches

“Don’t drop it!” Lorna Dawson, from Taurus Holidays (left), takes her turn in the amusing egg-catching activity

Kate Watton (left) and Ruth Gould from Action Tours get stuck in to the bread-making process. The results were excellent, very tasty, and consumed over lunch

‘Gloria’, a Causey Farm resident

More Causey Farm residents

A sheepdog demonstration, the sheep clearly impressed by the orange jackets

A welcome to Causey Farm

The orange jackets prepare to storm Trim Castle in Co. Meath, north west of Dublin. The castle, the largest Norman castle in Ireland, was a film location for the 1995 film ‘Braveheart’

Trim Castle

Trim Castle offers some excellent views from the top of its walls

One final photo showing Katherine Worsley from Greatdays Travel Group (left), Stuart Render, Rosie Peattie from Dream Escape, and Ann Marie Murphy from Failte Ireland with one of the 80 visitor orientation signs erected to guide visitors through Ireland’s Ancient East. The house colour for the initiative is orange, ah, wait a minute…!

What happens to continental European coach tour operation after Brexit?

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) has issued advice to its members relating to the operation of continental European coach tours and private hires after Brexit on 29 March 2019.

Trade magazine routeONE covered the story in its edition dated 22 August 2018 and it is reprinted here for information.

What might happen to continental European coach tours and private hires after 29 March 2019?

Coaching abroad? Then consider ‘no deal’ Brexit

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has issued advice to members suggesting that they should consider making contingency plans for the possibility of a ‘No deal’ Brexit in March 2019 as it “could impact” the coach industry, for operators carrying people outside the UK.

The CPT says it is not in a position to predict whether there will be a deal or not, but observes that if there is “no deal, and no agreed transitional period,” British coach operators will have no automatic right to carry on the business of transporting passengers on the roads of Europe after 29 March 2019.

There is an agreement (the Interbus agreement) that governs road passenger transport between the EU and most of its neighbours. This allows coach operators from Ukraine, Albania, Turkey etc to bring passengers into Europe and take them home again. Cabotage is not allowed, but negotiations are in progress to expand the agreement to include regular services.

It will be possible for the UK to become a party to the agreement in its own right immediately on leaving the EU, but it is not a certainty that operations can be carried under Interbus if they become illegitimate as a result of a no-deal Brexit. It would be possible for one or more bilateral agreements to be negotiated between the UK and other countries – such as the one that currently exists with Belarus – but no guarantee that this will be done in time for a seamless transition.

The CPT says: “If you are taking hire bookings, or selling holidays, that involve coach travel in Europe after 29 March 2019 you might like to consider contractual terms with your customers that allow you to subcontract all or part of the coach travel to an operator based outside the UK that is able to continue operating on the Continent. You might want to take legal advice on where the various contracts in the chain are best made and the consequences of the various options.”

In the airline industry, which faces a similar risk from a no-deal scenario, some operators are selling tickets for travel after 29 March with a clause that limits their liability to a refund in the event of it being impossible for them to carry the passenger for the journey they have booked.


Coach and group tourism in London under threat

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) has given a clear message to the Mayor of London that the early implementation of the Euro 6 emission standard in the existing central London Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) in 2019, combined with the introduction of an expanded LEZ in 2020, will seriously impact on coach and group tourism in the capital.

coach and group tourism
It’s probably won’t come to this, but the coach and bus industry is far from happy with the Mayor of London’s plans to introduce stricter vehicle emission standards without giving adequate time for coach and bus operators to replace or retrofit their vehicles

On 8 April 2019, central London changes from being an LEZ and becomes an ULEZ, an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone. This will require the Euro 6 emission standard for coaches and buses. A daily charge of £100 will be levied against any coaches and buses that aren’t compliant.

From 26 October 2020 the existing London-wide (LEZ), an area roughly the area inside the M25, will require coaches and buses to be Euro 6 to avoid daily charges of £300.

The coach and bus industry is concerned that the time scales do not allow time for coach and bus operators with older vehicles to either replace or retrofit engines in order to ensure compliance with the new regulations. Facing this insurmountable challenge, many operators are understood to be considering increasing their prices to allow for the daily charges for non-compliant vehicles. These increases will have to be passed on to the customer. While operators believe that many customers will pay the extra charge, there is concern that overall, passenger numbers may drop, affecting both operators and the London visitor economy.

Commenting on the announcement, Simon Posner, CPT chief executive, says: “CPT has been engaged with transport for London (TfL) and industry partners for many years on a number of air quality and congestion reducing initiatives for London. A delegation of industry representatives, led by CPT, expressed their concerns in a meeting with the Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross, who clearly understood the industry’s position and acknowledged that any expansion to the ULEZ would present many operators with an insurmountable problem.

“CPT remains convinced that the expansion of ULEZ, in addition to the early introduction of the scheme in the central area, will have a serious impact on day-to-day coach operations as well as a detrimental impact on London’s tourism economy. While we continue to support the Mayor’s plans to improve London’s air quality, penalising visiting coaches which are part of the solution and not the problem is not the way to go about it.

“Buses and coaches are key to reducing pollution, alleviating congestion and providing quicker journey times in the capital, and it is extremely disappointing that this announcement fails to recognise the role that these important modes have to play. CPT and the coach industry plans to meet with the incoming Deputy Mayor for Transport, Heidi Alexander, in order to help find a workable solution for London, its tourism economy and visiting coaches.”

From 25 October 2021 the ULEZ is due to be extended to cover all of London inside the North and South Circular Roads.

A report commissioned by CPT found that London’s economy benefited around £186m from coach tourism.

CPT Coaching Conference ‘Embracing the Digital World’

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) held its annual Coaching Conference at Volvo’s Warwick HQ on 15 November.

‘Embracing the Digital World’ looked at how the industry can take advantage of digital technology. speakers covered a wide range of topics including the use of social media, crowd sourcing, digital compliance, data protection and parking in Westminster.

I’m indebted to trade magazine Bus & Coach Buyer for permission to reproduce part of a full report by Chris Peat that gives a useful and informative update on the issues facing coach operators across the country. To see the full report, go to www.busandcoachbuyer.com

Digital technology and its effects on the UK’s coaching industry was the theme at the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK’s annual Coaching Conference held on 15 November at Volvo’s Warwick HQ.

First speaker of the day was CPT President, Ian Luckett, who said the biggest challenge the industry is facing is that of air quality. Unfortunately, he believes the public has a negative view of the industry. “Sometimes we don’t help ourselves. All it takes is for the driver to idle and it wrecks the image. Generally, the public sees it [the coach] as a dirty, polluting beast.”

This, he believes, is certainly not the case and he notes how much the industry has invested in clean and new vehicles, even without the ULEZ necessitating it. He noted that at Lucketts, it is trialling the Irizar i4H hybrid coach, saying he believes these vehicles may become commonplace in its fleet. “Hybrid is an option we have got to look at. Other solutions are not open to us, not until better battery technology is available.”

The CPT has worked hard, he claims, to turn the industry’s negative image around and make it known as part of the solution to cleaning the nation’s air. The government is starting to “get it”, he said. “The CPT has made that happen by getting its voice heard. We have spoken to MPs about the huge strides we have made in fleets and the huge investments we have made. The gauntlet has been thrown down to local authorities: what plans do they have to tackle air quality at the local level?”

When it comes to engaging with councils, he said: “We must not wait for local authorities to come to us; we need to make the first move. Our CPT managers, that are here today, they are key to getting the message across. If you have a meeting with a local authority, take your local managers with you. They will be delighted to go. It always staggers me how little politicians know about the subject [of air quality]. We need to make sure bus and coach is front and centre of local authority plans.

“We need to persuade the local authorities to do something about congestion and then our service can be the contender for the car.”
“There are some who say the industry is in its twilight years. But I think we have just come into puberty; exciting things are going to happen.” He warned operators to keep up with developments though. “If you’re not careful, you will be the Nokia of this world.”
On the conference’s theme of digital developments, he noted the BBC website turned 20 recently and said that in 1997 there were fewer than 8m people online in the country. There are now 60m. “The digital world has evolved and there’s nothing to suggest it will slow down. As an industry, we have to embrace the digital world. It’s up to us to tell suppliers what we and our customers want.”

Friend or foe?
A picture of Donald Trump’s inauguration was shown at the start of CPT’s Director of Policy Development, Steven Salmon’s, presentation. He then showed another image of what was going on behind this photo, revealing a massed crowd. Steven said there were some crowd-sourced coaches that brought some of those people to the event, saying 750 vehicles were involved. These were organised by Rally, the US crowd-sourced transport provider. Steve said: “This turns our model on its head. We put supply out there and hope we can sell it.” He likened these online platforms to VAMOOZ, developed by the UK’s Transdev Blazefield.

Steven continued: “If we whizz across the Atlantic and head to Germany, we have FlixBus. They are best known for regular services. They are very interested in the whole coach market though. They have 42 software developers to bring together people who want to have a coach to those who want to supply it. It is ambitious and they are putting a fantastic amount of resources behind it.”
In the UK, there is Zeelo, described as pop-up coach travel for the crowd. Steven said it was started by looking at the university term-time market, linking people up from their homes to their university halls of residence. They then turned towards the world of sporting events and Zeelo now offers passes for transport to regular home games of select teams, creating regular customers. “However, they have fallen for the temptation of misrepresentation,” Steven claimed. The website claims it has a fleet of 20,000 executive coaches at its disposal. “I guess all of you are contracted to provide travel for them,” quipped Steven.

Arriva Click was his next example, based in Sittingbourne, providing travel around Kent Science Park. He described it as drawing bus-loads of people together in real time. The pricing sits between the local bus and the taxi, he said. “Industrial espionage”, to find out how many people are boarding these vehicles, is hard because of the vehicles’ tinted windows. However, he said that if people have not found out about the app for booking this transport, the service is largely invisible. Similar to Click is Slide in Bristol, a shared ride to work service. “Although I do wish they would come out with a different slogan – Better than bus.” Inevitably, Uber was mentioned. He said that in his discussions with the company, they find it harder to get drivers than they do customers.

So, are these newly emerging online platforms a friend or a foe? “It depends where you are. You could well see some disruption in the market where you are established, you have a brand, your brand has value and your people are going to come back to you because you give them the right experience, the right price. But clearly the platforms, or some of them, are trying to make that offer in terms of positioning, quality, price, which will flow right through to the delivery and then you as a customer will get what they want and come back to the platform. If you were an Uber passenger in London, you wouldn’t dream of going back to find the driver again, you would go back to the platform. This is the kind of idea people are thinking about. But you might find a platform is easier for you to engage with than engaging directly with customers, so you might now find you can get into markets you have not been able to. Ultimately, there is nothing to stop you starting a platform yourself.”

Social media
Social media is like marmite, according to Richard Grey, MD of Greys of Ely, either you like it or loath it. He started by asking the audience what social media is. The answer: computer-mediated technologies that help create and share information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. He turned the audience’s attention to the Conversation Prism 5.0, a diagram detailing social media platforms and their relevance to certain areas (a Google search will reveal this). He noted there is no coaching specific social media site on there. “It would be quite nice if we got Sn-ap or something sitting on there.”

When it comes to social media, often the question people ask is: “Is it relevant to my business? Will I be able to reach a target market with social media and digital marketing? What you’ve got to remember is we are now doing business in times when the audience, your customers and their children, are constantly glued to the internet, especially social media channels. Yesterday the coffee machine in the office broke, I fixed it using YouTube. The trend poses a great opportunity for operators to reach out to their audiences quickly and effectively.”

In the days of the Yellow Pages, Richard said you could spend thousands on advertising and not know if it was reaching your target audience. Social media ensures better aiming of marketing efforts, he claimed. “Today you can profile your customer down to the village they live in. You can start to see if the money you are spending is worthwhile.”

Social media is readily accessible for this marketing, he claims, “This is not for the likes of Nike or Coca Cola of this world, it can be for any size business.”
However, has it replaced normal communication with passengers and staff? “No, I don’t think it has, it’s just a different environment we’re working in. We wouldn’t not answer a phone call or an email, so why fear replying to a Facebook comment? You should be involved. Irrespective of your opinion, people will have a view of your business and they will be talking about it on social media.”

At Greys of Ely, Richard has a closed Facebook group for its staff, allowing communication between them, which is on top of notice boards and letters. It asks its drivers to send pictures in when they are on tour, which gives the company content it can use for its own marketing. It also tells them exactly the number of people that have seen internal communications. “It works well, it’s a good way of communicating with staff.”
Social media is also changing the language we use too, Richard said. He gave the example of his 11-year-old daughter who already uses such abbreviations as BRB, TTYL and the like.

So which social media platform should an operator use? Facebook is perhaps the most well-known. Richard suggested operators ensure they use a business account when using this, stopping any personal posts getting mixed up with professional ones. The same applies with Twitter. LinkedIn is the professionals’ social media account and unlike the previously mentioned ones, Richard said the best tactic to use with this is to accept everyone, even if you do not know them. Accepting as many people as possible helps get your message out to a wider audience. There is also an option of having a company account.

YouTube, the video sharing website, can also be a good platform for operators, with Richard posting promotional videos on the site and then reposting them on other social media platforms. “Visual content is important. We have a light-hearted mix on there. Our voice on it is smart, but quite comical, maybe silly.”

Greys had a deal of interest online for its ‘Mr T on a coach’ YouTube video (https://goo.gl/Luj77i). “The week after its launch, we picked up a contract for a large technology company from Cambridge. One of their senior people leaned over and asked the driver, ‘So, is Mr T onboard?’” One promotional video it produced used special effects to show Richard throwing Greys’ livery on one of the coaches. Another was made on May the 4th (Star Wars day) and saw an epic space battle unfold in the skies above the operator’s depot. Which one cost the least? The Star Wars one; it was created using an app freely available on the internet. “It doesn’t need to be mega bucks.”

Richard uses Google Analytics to figure out the best time to post on social media, aligning his posts when most people are active on these platforms and therefore getting the maximum amount of views. So for example, LinkedIn views tend to be most prevalent first thing in the morning or later in the day after work has finished. Of course, giving customers a platform to communicate also opens the possibility for people to post negative comments, which can then be seen by other customers. “When this happens, my wholehearted advice is to get the conversation offline. Don’t tell people they are wrong on social media. Or, just concede a bit.”

Richard gave an example of social media perhaps not working in his favour. It was during a trip to a sports event in Manchester which he was providing several vehicles to transport people for. Of the 24 coaches making the journey, one broke down, and happened to have BBC Cambridgeshire’s sports reporter onboard. He was on Twitter, announcing his coach to the game had broken down to his multitude of followers. “Things quickly snowballed,” resulting in Richard receiving a phone call from the broadcasting company. Luckily, CPT’s media response service helped him out, but the result is that Richard now seems to be the ‘go to’ person for coach industry insight for BBC Cambridgeshire.
He asked the audience if they had a social media policy. Even if the company does not use social media, it may be that staff do and Richard suggested documentation is put in place to explain to them the power of these online platforms and how employees should conduct themselves on them.

Digital compliance
Following a lunch break, the next speaker was Steve Fox from the Traffic Commissioner’s Office. In November 2016, there was a relaunch of the way the Office works with operators online. The new web-based system was designed to make it quicker and more convenient for new and existing vehicle operators to apply for and make changes to their operator licence. One of the advantages of this is that data the Office holds on operators can be changed in seconds, according to Steve. This is advantageous for not only operators, but the Office because prior to this, a lot of information held was out of date. “This data goes to DVSA’s enforcement team, so it is critically important the data is current and up to date. Data that is often wrong is something like a phone number. If that’s wrong, then it gets them wondering what else is wrong.”

Since the launch of the ability to apply and make changes to licenses online, there have been 40,000 licence changes made in this way and 200,000 vehicle alterations made digitally. He noted changes and applications are made using Verify, an identity verification system, which makes input from the operator legally binding. However, this is not proving as popular as hoped because it is aimed towards citizens rather than businesses, but this is changing, according to Steve.

The system has reduced the application time for licences from nine to seven weeks, Steve claimed. It has achieved less than seven weeks on average in the last six months. The goal is to achieve four weeks.
The new digital system also features Companies House reporting, matching operator’s data held there with the office’s own forms. This is especially helpful when a business changes its trading stance, with the change often being registered at Companies House, but not as often at the Traffic Commissioners’ Office. It is also alerted of any more changes to an operation’s information.

The website has also been given a user feedback link. “We are keen on understanding what users like and what we need to improve. Our team looks at this once a week to see what didn’t work and what customers want to see. It informs decision making.”

User feedback is high, Steve reports, giving the figure of 81% satisfaction in July 2017. The majority find it easy to use, according to its own research. “We hope it does what it says, which is to help make it easy to become compliant.”
Steve said: “There will come a point where we will switch off all paper correspondence. It’s about two years away. The Traffic Commissioner’s objective is to have total digital compatibility by April 2019.”
One way the office’s digital systems are to be developed is by looking at its data and document retention work. “We are going to start deleting data. We hold onto it longer than we should.” This is in line with the upcoming Right to be Forgotten, one of the key principles in data protection law.
David Morris of DRM Bus asked about bus service registrations. “You need to do something on them and no messing.” Steve replied saying digital bus registrations are on the Office’s road map to deliver, but said they are a complex piece of work.

Westminster parking
Coach parking in London is always an alluring topic and Kieran Fitsall of Westminster City Council showed how it is moving towards the digital age. One of the biggest challenges he faces is how does he fit in the 600,000 vehicles that visit the eight-mile square area daily? Another challenge is air quality. The primary aim is getting drivers to make the journey as easily and quickly as possible. “We don’t want them driving round looking for parking.”
Kieran said: “If people choose not to use their car but use passenger transport, then we have achieved our goal. We do generate income but from people parking illegally. The aim is not to issue people with parking tickets, but what we have tried to do is change the focus to be about providing a service for customers.”

Kieran said the way parking is charged has changed, with cash parking meters removed due to theft. Customer satisfaction with transactions with these cashless mahines is at 98-99%, according to Kieran. Coaches in the city generally require a voucher to allow parking. Smartphone parking apps have become commonly used. This has been opened up to different apps, with a variety now available.

Over 3,500 sensors have been installed in Westminster’s parking spaces, including some coach parking bays on the Embankment. These can talk to a device and notifies that the space has been taken, providing real time information of availability. This information is done per rank, rather than for individual bays. The data collected from this is being used to predict and show where parking becomes available.

He acknowledges that coach parking in London is an “absolute nightmare”, saying: “There is not enough coach parking in central London.” The organisation has been in talks with the CPT concerning this. “We are keen to understand any ongoing problems.”

Aside from parking, another issue Westminster council has addressed is vehicle idling and the affects that has. An action it has taken on this is the #dontbeidle, a social media campaign aimed at increasing knowledge of and cutting out this practice.

Looking further ahead in parking in its area, Westminster council has been interested in accessing parking data for an occasion when autonomous vehicles become commonplace and exploring how that information can be shared with car manufacturers.

Are you protecting data?
Giving some insight into what operators might need to consider in the wake of the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was Keith McNally, Operations Director at CPT. He said: “The GDPR might not be relevant if you have no customers, no CCTV or have photographic memory.” Coming into force on 25 May 2018, Keith described it as the biggest change to data protection in a generation. Should companies worry? To put it into perspective, he gave the example of TalkTalk, which was fined £400,000 for a cyber attack that accessed customer data. Under GDPR, the fine could be up to £59m. It is not just companies that will be affected, enforcement actions can be taken against charities and the police.

Taking care of this data protection is the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). “If someone makes a complaint to ICO, they will come after you. They might be perceived as nasty, but they are willing to help.”
Personal data needs protecting, which is considered anything about a natural person, not businesses. There are certain categories of data that are regarded as sensitive, such as employee records, beliefs, relationships, etc. “These need treating in a sensitive way.” Keith said some of the things businesses need to think about include: customer records, staff records, credit card details, CCTV, telematics and school bus passes.

Data protection is not just about ensuring computers and tablets with information are secure, but any structural set of data, including paper files. You should already be compliant with the Data Protection Act (DPA) and must be registered with the ICO, claimed Keith.

A privacy notice is needed, which covers what you use the data for. Consent must be kept in mind. “Everyone is familiar with boxes on websites that are pre-ticked. There has to be a positive opt in; you have to say you want their information. They also have the right to withdraw that consent.”
There is also the ‘right to be forgotten’, which gives them the justification to have any details of theirs deleted where there is no compelling need for them to be kept. The right to data portability comes into play too, which allows customers to obtain and reuse their personal data for their own purposes across different services. For instance, they can have data on transactions transferred from one to another operator. They will also have the right to object to profiling. Under GDPR, if there has been a breach of personal information, then it must be reported within 72 hours.

To start with, Keith suggests reviewing what data you have and where it came from. He said: “If you have data you are not using, get rid of it. Think about what companies you work with that might have your data: booking systems, CCTV companies, credit control. If they have access to data you control, you need to talk to them about their role.”

Under the new rules, people will have the right to a Subject Access Request (SAR), giving them access to data on themselves, including CCTV footage. Under current rules, you would have the right to charge them £10, which will no longer be the case. You also currently have 40 days to comply, which will fall to 30. You must consider redactions too. If there are other people in the CCTV footage, then how do you show the person requesting the footage and not someone else?

Keith said: “You need to look at the lawful basis of what you do with data. Have they given you consent?”
Keith suggested identifying what gaps you have and what you need to do now, check the guidance from ICO and get some advice in time for the May 2018 deadline. More information from www.ico.org.uk

Popularity of UK’s gardens and zoos continues to rise

The popularity of the UK’s gardens and zoos continues to rise. Figures released by VisitEngland show that the two staples of traditional coach touring saw the most significant growth in visitors to attractions last year.

VisitEngland’s Annual Attractions Survey, which gathered information from more than 1,500 English attractions, found that outdoor attractions performed particularly well in 2016, with gardens and zoos showing growth of 8%. Historic houses and castles reported a 7% increase in visitor numbers, while country parks saw a 4% increase.

Coastal and rural attractions experienced strong growth of 4% and 5% respectively, reflecting the results of VisitEngland’s Great Britain Tourism Survey.

Commenting on the figures, Tourism Minister John Glen says: “We have an amazing range of world-class attractions in England that draw in millions of visitors every year. Whether it is our unique historic buildings, internationally important museums or stunning gardens, there is a huge amount to see and do. Ensuring that all parts of the country benefit from our tourism industry is a key government priority so it is fantastic to see such growth across the regions.”

Sally Balcombe, chief executive of VisitEngland, says: “There are so many outstanding attractions offering year-round experiences throughout the country and it is great see that Brits enjoyed 2016’s ‘Year of the English Garden’. Attractions are a much loved and valuable part of the tourism landscape, adding colour and variety to the visitor experience and encouraging people to get out and explore, driving the value of tourism across the regions.”

The British Museum was the most visited free attraction in England in 2016, for the ninth consecutive year, with nearly 6.5 million visitors. It was closely followed by the National Gallery which had more than 6.2 million visitors.

The Tower of London topped the list of paid-for attractions for the eighth year running, with 2.7 million visitors. Chester Zoo experienced its highest ever ranking, in second place, with nearly 1.9 million visitors.

Visits to England’s attractions rose by 2% in 2016, with attractions reporting revenues up by 7%.

VisitEngland’s latest figures show that, for the first four months of 2017, domestic holidaymakers took a record 11.4 million holiday trips in England.

Popularity of UK's gardens and zoos
Gardens and zoos are attracting record numbers of visitors. This is one of the collection of royal cars at Sandringham House and Gardens in Norfolk.

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