Starr Bus Charter and Tours, based in Trenton, New Jersey, is one of the largest family-owned bus companies in the United States. Sandy Borowsky, a third-generation family member, operates the business along with her husband and parents. Borowsky serves as the vice president, tours & marketing for the company that began in 1947 when her grandfather purchased two transit buses that provided route service between Trenton and Hightstown, New Jersey. Today, Starr is an industry leader providing charter transportation, tour service, convention shuttle service and transportation fulfillment. Borowsky shared her insight on the current status and future of group travel.
Q. COVID-19 has severely affected the travel industry. What tourism trends are you seeing that impact your business, how you work and the future of group travel?
A. Because COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our revenues, profits and cash flow, we have to work smarter and more efficiently than ever. We must keep our expenses low in order to keep offering the best tours at the best value. Additionally, we have to focus on customer service and building relationships with our clients that create trust. Customers must trust that companies will take good care of them and keep them safe and away from harm. We have been doing that effectively at Starr but have had to reinvent due to COVID-19.
Q. What do you see as an opportunity that will come out of the current crisis?
A. There will be a lot of pent-up demand for travel and for those who want to make up for lost time not being able to travel. Many customers worked their whole life, saved up money and were ready to travel when COVID-19 hit. Lots of customers have told me they will take two years’ worth of trips in one year to make up for lost time!
Q. What advice would you give to group travel planners trying to grow their business?
A. Make sure you have a way to build your customer base. This is something we struggle with all the time. We were able to build our public customer list many years ago using the newspaper. Now that newspaper has shifted to online, we rely on Google — but referrals are a larger part of our business than ever before. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals and reward those who do the referring!
Q. What is the “next big thing” for Starr Bus Charter & Tours?
A. We think there is a big opportunity in crowdsourced transportation to events like rallies, concerts, sporting events, college break shuttles home/back and much more. We have partnered with a startup Rally — rally.co — whose technology connects riders with other riders going to the same event or destination, then delivers high-end buses to get them there and back safely. The last few years have delivered steady growth with more opportunity to grow in the future.
Q: What is your favorite travel app?
A: I love Tripadvisor! Nothing fancy, just the tried and true version! Not only do I use it to get information and feedback about hotels, attractions, destinations, restaurants (both personally and professionally) but I also contribute to the community by writing reviews. Recently I was the #3 Reviewer in the town where I live. (I was quite proud of this accomplishment!). I like to give payback when I am provided with value.
Q. Tell me about your favorite tour you have planned or gone on. What made it special?
A. I love our “Birthday Bash” tours. Each year we celebrate Starr’s birthday with a new destination and fun activities as a part of the tour package. We usually have about 200–300 people who join us each year and we have so much fun. We’ve been to Pigeon Forge, Myrtle Beach, Catskill Mountains and more! I love meeting our travelers and getting to know them, hearing their stories and learning about why they love Starr. This reinvigorates me for another year around the sun of tour planning! The destination doesn’t matter, it’s the people you surround yourself with!
Q. Tell me three words that describe why we should travel.
A. Memories, experiences, growth.
Starr Bus Charter & Tours