Each January, the American Bus Association holds Marketplace, a trade show for the motorcoach, group tour and travel industry. Due to COVID-19, an in-person Marketplace was not held in 2021, so ABA is looking forward to Marketplace 2022, to be held Jan. 8–11 in Grapevine, Texas. We talked with Peter J. Pantuso, president and CEO of ABA, about Marketplace 2022. 

Q. For those new to the industry, can you explain what ABA Marketplace is?

A. Marketplace is an event like none other, where the entire motorcoach, group travel and tour operator community comes together to do business, network and take in business-building education sessions.

Peter J. Pantuso
Credit: ABA

During Marketplace we have something for everyone: our seven Councils will hold their annual meetings and education sessions; there will be more than 50 education sessions that will focus on marketing, sales and back-office topics to help business run efficiently and more profitably; our Business Floor will be busy with three days of seven-minute business appointment meetings for buyers and sellers; and our networking floor will have more than 100 exhibitors from the travel, motorcoach and supplier sectors.

And since 2020, we now have Busworld North America as part of Marketplace. Busworld North America is an annual forward-looking education mini-conference with renown motorcoach and transportation experts from around the world discussing issues effecting the bus and motorcoach industry and what is coming down the road in the next five to 10 years. On odd years, we will have a large bus exhibit show called Busworld North America, with leading manufacturers and suppliers from around the world who want to showcase their product to the North American market. There is literally something for everyone in your company: from the boss to the tour and charter directors, to the safety director to the maintenance team to your sales and administration people.

While we normally have around 3,200 people attend Marketplace, this year we are expecting closer to 1,700 given the industry’s struggles with the COVID pandemic. 

ABA Marketplace networking floor
Credit: ABA

Q. What’s new for Marketplace 2022?

A. Marketplace will continue to be the largest and most rewarding business show everyone looks forward to. For most, it kicks off a year of new business, networking and education opportunities focused on their business.

This year’s theme is Back to Business and that is what our programming is hyper-focused on. We have been talking to our members about what they need to recover from the effects of the pandemic. It has been two years since many of us have seen each other in person so there will be a lot of celebrating and getting re-acquainted along with business planning for the future, in Grapevine.

Q. Will there be any COVID-19 protocols in place at Marketplace 2022?

A. We are using every precaution to keep everyone safe during Marketplace. You must either show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test 72 hours before arriving in Texas to attend Marketplace. We are asking all delegates to wear masks while attending indoor meetings and functions and we will, of course, have hand sanitizers throughout the area. We are also offering COVID testing on-site for those who need to show proof of a negative test before going home. 

Q. What is ABA Gives Back?

A. Historically, when ABA comes into a city for Marketplace, we choose a local charity to support during our time in the city. Since its inception in 2007, ABA Marketplace attendees have donated nearly $375,000 to local charities through the program. This year’s ABA Gives Back charity is the House of Shine, which is a nonprofit dedicated to the study of you. Their mission is to grow confident and self-aware leaders, ages 5 to 95, to make meaningful contributions in their corner of the world. 

Broadway entertainment, ABA Marketplace
Credit: ABA

Q. What are the benefits of attending Marketplace for a tour operator?

A. As a tour operator, this is your chance to “see” and network with hundreds of attractions, hotels, destinations and others in one spot to help you create meaningful and attractive tours for your customers in 2022 and 2023. Attendees have the opportunity to have appointments with all the suppliers that make their business happen from charter companies, hotels, cities, museums, parks, theaters, restaurants, etc. Everyone is under one roof and ready to do business. 

Q. What’s your key message as you prepare for Marketplace and look to 2022?

A. We are tourism strong. I have been saying that since the pandemic hit and I truly believe it. While we all may compete for customers, we are also a family dedicated to providing safe and memorable experiences to everyone of all ages. We have weathered a lot this past year and we are still here. Bottom lines may be slimmer than they used to be, but group tourism is stronger than a pandemic and we will see people traveling again and by attending ABA’s Marketplace you will be ready to welcome them.

This is truly where you come to get back to business. We have nearly 200 buyers who are ready to do business. We will have a vibrant exhibit floor to give you a taste of destinations and companies you may not have thought of visiting before. Marketplace is the only show you will need to attend for the year and still fill up your books.