Face to Face: John Wales

The new chairman of the Coach Tourism Association, John Wales, tells TravelGBI editor Samantha Mayling about his plans to promote coaching holidays

Q: Why did you want to be chairman?

A: I have always been passionate about the coach industry since organising daily coach tours to Normandy for Townsend Thoresen back in the early 80s.

I have been on the board of the CTA for more than six years and have been a supplier member for many years.

I really believe in the association, with unrivalled value and the opportunity to network and gain commercial advantage.

Becoming chairman of the board enables me to influence the direction of the association, delivering increased benefit for all members and promoting the benefits of travel by coach.

Q: What is your background in the travel trade?

A: I have been involved in the travel trade since 1983 – 35 years – with many years of experience in tour operations and suppliers.

I co-founded Encore with Ashley Herman back in 2000, establishing a ticket company that understands the needs of the travel trade and makes buying tickets easy, having experienced as a buyer the various challenges to include theatre specifically, in programmes.

Encore sells one in five tickets in London’s West End as well as events, exhibitions, restaurants and attractions.

Q: Encore recently appointed Joe Steele as chief executive and Nick Benjamin as chief technology officer. What does this mean for Encore?

A: Exciting times for Encore – investing in new, high-calibre senior executives to drive Encore to the next level.

2018 is set for 30% growth with new technologies, new major clients, and new products, plus more efficient online systems increasing conversion and growing sales.

About 80% of business is online and, with multiple products on our latest responsive platform, that delivers sales in 190 countries through a multi-channel sales network.

The “myencore” trade portal for FIT bookings has commissionable rates and the ability to hold tickets whilst clients consider and confirm, 24/7.

Q: How is the coach tourism market looking for 2018?

A: The market looks steady for 2018, with growth in domestic trips due to the pound’s weakness against the euro.

The over-50s sector continues to grow, which is the core market for coach tourism, but cruises, low-cost flights and package holidays compete, so highlighting the benefits of a door-to door service, with a local friendly company offering quality products, remains the focus for operators.

Q: What are the main trends in coach tourism?

A:  Many operators are looking at increasing day excursion programmes and shorter breaks instead of the longer one- or two-week holidays.

Clients are loyal to the local operator who delivers a friendly, high service level, with repeat business a great base to build upon.

Product innovation can also appeal across the age demographic, essential as all generations are changing normal travel preferences, but with increased frequency of trips by all, an opportunity to increase share of the growing overall tourism trend from the UK market.

Q: What do you see as the main challenges for coach tourism?

A: New Emission Zone policies will cost coach operators, either by paying the £100 fine if the coach is over two years old and doesn’t meet Euro 6 in London, or a £20,000 upgrade to each vehicle that does not comply, or purchase new coaches costing more than £250,000.

I fear for the negative effect this will have on educational tourism, specifically in London, where school groups are cost-sensitive and typically use older coaches.

The £100 fine will have to passed onto to the schools, resulting in up to a 50% increase in trips will affect frequency of excursions or completely exclude educational visits to museums, attractions and theatres, unless an exemption for school groups can be incorporated into the new policy.

Parking in major cities has always been a challenge for coach operators, but cities which plan for the future will benefit in the long run.

I hear from so many operators who are so frustrated with London and seriously consider whether to exclude the capital from their programmes.

However, the Confederation of Passenger Transport and Transport for London have made a lot of progress.

They have increased the number of coach bays in the West End and put pressure on councils to curb over-zealous wardens who penalise coach operators when dropping off or picking up clients, even if within legitimate time periods or genuinely assisting less able bodied passengers on/off vehicles.

Q: How can you and the CTA help overcome these challenges?

A: The environment issue and pollution from transport is always going to be a challenge and difficult to tackle.

The proven greenest form of transporting groups of people (by coach) seems to be an easy target, rather than incorporated as part of a planned and thought-through solution.

I believe the CTA can highlight this fact to various committees and trade bodies.

I don’t think attractions, museums and theatre producers are aware of the threat the emission zone policy will have on the educational market and the impact it would have financially.

The CTA can highlight to its supplier members the potential effects it can have on their businesses, who can in turn add their voice and lobby for exemptions and amicable solutions.

On parking, we continue to work with the CPT to highlight the concerns and examples from operators so London or other cities can aid coach tourism rather than attack it and deter visits and valuable tourism revenues.

Q: What are your priorities in your new role?

A: To set out a vision for the association, ensuring full members and associates get value from their membership.

Forming relationships between suppliers and operators leads to commercial gain for both parties and the CTA brings members together both formally and informally creating successful commercial partnerships.

Continuing to promote the benefits of travel by coach in the consumer space and help operators and suppliers work together to meet clients’ needs.

Q: What key tips would you give to operators and organisers of coach holidays?

A: Group organisers should consider CTA coach operators for their tours as experts in the field.

They are members because they specialise in organising tours for their clients and work with key tourism partner members gaining the best value and inside track.

They are professional tour operators rather than just private hire, creating programmes year round for individual clients as well as private groups.