Not everything that is said about the image of tourist coaches is positive. They’re often associated with cheap day trips and pensioner outings. But German bus and coach makers have every opportunity to improve how they market their products. The Eberbach-based Steinbeis Transfer Center for Logistics and Marketing Management was asked by coach maker EvoBus to carry out a detailed assessment of the current image of coaches, including an evaluation of German tour bus companies’ marketing activities.
Coaches and tourist trips in travel buses have a number of advantages over other means of transport, especially when it comes to value for money, safety in road traffic and travel comfort. Theoretically, this should mean they have a higher market share. But in reality, their market share in Germany has dipped slightly. Despite the benefits of coach travel, coach tourism experts continually point to the negative image of coaches among the general public in Germany.
An important source of information for the analysis carried out by the Steinbeis experts was a survey of 51 coach tour operators about their image among end-customers and their marketing activities. To investigate the image of coaches methodically and in detail, the results of the survey were pooled with the results of a direct image analysis within individual customer target groups. This was based on desk research, drawing on any scientific studies that were detailed enough to apply to the topic of research. This was supplemented by expert interviews with selected representatives of omnibus associations. The survey showed that around two thirds of companies interviewed feel that coaches and coach tourism have a predominantly negative image in Germany among the general public. A third of companies said the image was mainly positive.
The analysis of specialist publications on the image of coaches showed that very few studies have actually looked at the issue. One key finding of the Steinbeis study was that the image of coaches in Germany is not uniform or applicable to all people. Instead, opinion varies widely according to the target group interviewed. Questioning a representative sample of the German population shows that the image tends to be negative. Only around 8% of consumers preferred coach travel for a holiday trip. The positive aspects they point to are the social benefits, reliable planning and organization, comfort and environmental friendliness. When existing coach passengers were questioned, the majority of respondents’ image of coaches was positive. The Steinbeis study also highlighted a number of shortcomings in the marketing and sales activities of many German coach companies. For example, target groups were not being addressed properly, the marketing mix was not being matched to target groups, and there was insufficient collaboration with travel agencies and tour operators.
To significantly improve the image of coaches, it will be necessary to define a uniform target image in the future. This will mean involving everyone in the tourism value chain. The next step will be to carry out a joint, target group-based marketing and media campaign to improve the image of coaches in the medium term through bundled activities. Special attention should be given to today’s non-customers as a potential new target group – mainly 20 to 50-year-olds who like cars. The effectiveness of marketing activities will also need to be assessed professionally. Also, consideration should be given to the fact that many German people find it difficult to distinguish between buses used in local transport and coaches. Future image campaigns will have to take both segments into account at the same time.
The Steinbeis experts clearly identified the weaknesses of marketing and sales activities currently carried out by the mainly small and medium-sized German coach companies. There are many microeconomic market-based activities the companies could become involved in. At the same time, the omnibus associations and bus makers could provide know-how and support coach companies with modern marketing and sales tools.