Is this the end for continental coach holidays?

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As passenger statistics fall rapidly, coach industry leaders begin taking steps to stop the demise of continental coach holidays

The industry is debating whether continental coach tour programmes should be cutback as operators report a decline in their popularity, whilst cruise ship holidays continue to benefit from a surge.

A March 2014 report from Mintel, which provides consumer market figures and statistics states that the bus and coach holiday market fell by an estimated 13% in volume terms and 5% in value terms between 2008-2013. In 2014 this fell again by 1% in volume and value. Statistics from the report taken in December 2013, say that 29% of younger holiday travellers are put off as coach holidays are aimed at older people, these stats were taken from a panel of 1,998 persons aged over 16. However, the report also estimated that figures would rise between 2013-2018 and statement from the Coach Tourism Council (CTC) suggests that the figures are where they should be.

Paul Ovington of the CTC told CBW: “As a ball park figure we say more than 1.5 million people take a coach tour to the continent each year. Many CTC coach operator members have large tour programmes to the continent with many going as far away as the Amalfi coast in Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Germany and Austria as well as southern Spain and Portugal with France, Belgium and Holland in between.”

One operator faces new challenges as passenger figures drop; this company is now looking for different ways to engage with new and existing customers.

Commenting on the decline, Managing Director of Parrys International Tours, David Parry said: “We have lost almost half of our regular continental clients to cruising and cheap flights and there is a danger that many coach companies’ will withdraw from continental holidays altogether.” He added: “50-65-year-olds are our biggest customer group, we now need to move in a different direction and engage with a younger audience and I believe we will find success with shorter weekend trips and specific individual tours.

“Next year we’re going to reduce at least 50 of our continental holidays and replace these with more UK holidays.”

Coach operators’ that offer travel to cruise ships seem to be benefiting from the changes, Operations Manager of Eavesway Travel, Andrew Rigby said: “A lot has changed in the last five years alone, with cruise ship capacity from the UK increasing on a large scale with many bigger ships coming online, this is good for us, now you can board a cruise ship with a 4,180 passenger capacity from Southampton as well as other ports including Dover, Harwich and Tilbury.”

He added: “Over 20 years ago our cruise passenger transfer operation started serving a small handful of ships, whereas in 2015 the Cruiselink service served no fewer than 20 ships whose capacity is far greater than those 20 years ago. Our customer base has definitely increased as has the size of the fleet as a result.

“The style and size of vehicle being operated has also changed meaning that not only has the size of the fleet increased but also its carrying capability too. However, whilst some cruise ships sometimes don’t hit full capacity, the deals on offer ensure that late booking passengers are always guaranteed some great last minute deals, making cruising an even more popular holiday option.”

Chief Executive of the CTC, Chris Wales has some concerns for the future of continental coach holidays, he said: “The latest Mintel report suggests a decline. We have an ageing population with older people being more adventurous with their holiday choices. However arguably the coach industry doesn’t always get the benefits of these great holidays across to the public.

“There are so many offers out there for cruise holidays with exotic destinations, the CTC is doing its best with limited resources to increase interest in coach holidays abroad, but with our biggest customer base aged over 65, it’s becoming more difficult every year.”

He added: “The CTC has worked hard over the past 25 years to promote coach tourism to the general public and despite considerable leisure time competition, we believe we are holding our own.”