The American Bus Association (ABA) is focused on creating an industry that speaks with one voice loud and clear. Melanie Hinton, vice president of communications and marketing at the American Bus Association, shares how ABA helps members grow their businesses.

Q. Tell us a little bit about ABA.

A. American Bus Association is the largest and oldest motorcoach and group tour association in North America. Since 1926, ABA has been representing the industry in Washington, D.C., and providing legislative and regulatory assistance as well as strategic guidance. ABA also provides educational and business opportunities to help members grow their business throughout the year. It is the association’s goal to bring the entire industry together to provide an environment where members can learn and expand in addition to having their collective interests looked after. We also want to help ensure that the traveling public has a safe and enjoyable experience when traveling by motorcoach.

Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Melanie Hinton
Credit: American Bus Association

A. The most rewarding part of my job is assisting companies during times of crisis and telling our members’ stories. ABA members are incredible people doing great things. Many are small and nearly all are family-owned businesses that don’t have a public relations firm working for them, so I get to play that role.

Q. How does ABA help tour operators?

A. ABA works to protect the interests of tour operators, whether it is working on access to national parks, access to Paycheck Protection Program funds during COVID, or other issues that can impact tour operators. Another significant benefit for tour operators belonging to ABA is that we bring the suppliers right to them. Our annual Marketplace gives operators the opportunity to have a year’s worth of meetings in three days. We also provide other meetings and events throughout the year creating the atmosphere conducive to strong business relationships. ABA’s education series helps members work smarter not harder, and we are able to assist them during a crisis as well.

Q. ABA Marketplace 2023 is scheduled for Feb. 4-7 in Detroit, Michigan. Describe some of the benefits of attending this conference.

American Bus Association
Credit: American Bus Association

A. Hands down, ABA’s Marketplace is the only show tour operators need to attend during the year. Marketplace provides the largest forum with the greatest return on investment for operators and suppliers to come together to do business. In addition to the most qualified business appointments in the industry, Marketplace also offers first-class business education for everyone in the company and a host of networking events to build relationships.

Q. Are you seeing any changes in group tours in the wake of the pandemic?

A. Before the pandemic there was a shift to more personalized, smaller group tours. When the pandemic hit, everything stopped. People started to re-evaluate their priorities, and today we are seeing that more people want to travel after being cooped up for nearly two years. However, they want to travel with family and friends reinforcing the smaller, more intimate tour mindset. Travelers are looking for personalization instead of the one-size-fits-all tour. They are also looking for flexibility in scheduling their trips, whether it is booking later than what used to be acceptable or being able to cancel for an illness without penalty.

Q. What is the outlook for group tours going forward?

A. I think the outlook for group tours is strong. People want to travel. We just need to make sure that we are giving them what they specifically want to do. You will see more requests for tours shaped by the group rather than groups signing up for a randomly curated tour. Of course, while people want to travel, the recession and driver shortage will be a hinderance to the industry’s full recovery.

Marketplace event
Credit: American Bus Association

Q. What’s next for ABA?

A. ABA believes that together we are stronger as an industry. Our focus right now is to meet our members and potential members where they are at in their business journey. We want to help our members recover from the pandemic pause and get back to where we all were pre-COVID. To do this, we will continue providing business education and benefits that meet our members’ needs as well as fight for them on Capitol Hill and with the regulatory agencies so we don’t end up with regulations that could hurt our recovery. In addition, providing research to them and trend data is critical to helping them succeed. Much of this is done through the ABA Foundation.

Main image: Marketplace appointment; credit: American Bus Association