Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

ABA 2016 Draws Record Crowd in Louisville

record crowd turned out for the American Bus Association (ABA) 2016 Marketplace in Louisville, Kentucky, January 9-12, and even ABA president and CEO Peter Pantuso was amazed at the attendance of 3,500 motorcoach owners and travel professionals.

“For years, Nashville has set our attendance benchmarks,” said Pantuso, “but our partners here in Louisville have been pulling out all the stops to promote this, so we beat all existing attendance records this year. This city has a dynamic downtown scene, and our members wanted to come and enjoy it.”

The city showed off two of its most iconic sites during its evening events, first taking delegates to the Muhammad Ali Center for an event that included an appearance by the boxer’s daughter, Rasheda, and then to Churchill Downs, where hundreds of women showed off their complimentary fascinators fashioned for them at the convention’s Kentucky pavilion.

Once there, they and hundreds of others relished the chance to nosh and hobnob on Millionaire’s Row. The world’s most recognizable Thoroughbred track, where American Pharoah began his Triple Crown run this past May, was illuminated below.

“We’re up around 4,000 members now,” Pantuso told me. “I think we’ll kick it up over that next year. That includes around 800 bus operators. Half of those have their own tour departments and run trips themselves. The other half are doing regularly scheduled runs and also charter equipment to tour operators. And we have about 275 independent tour operator members as well.”

At the annual meeting of the association’s membership, Pantuso celebrated the completion of an arduous process to craft a new federal transportation bill. Numerous elements within that legislation had the potential to affect travel groups for years to come.

“We were able to exempt motorcoaches from paying tolls, which reduces the costs of running thousands of tours each year, and we were able to eliminate weigh station stops for coaches, which made no sense to begin with,” he said. “We had members who were being stopped with groups on board for needless inspections that could last for an hour and half or more. You can imagine the inconvenience that was to those passengers.

“We were also successful in fighting off any fuel tax increases and eliminated an insurance requirement that would have cost from $10,000 to $20,000 in additional premiums annually per coach,” said Pantuso.

The association released a new study titled “The Remaking of the Motor Coach” that looks at the consumer habits of millennials and others. Websites and apps coming online now enable small groups or “pods” of travelers to arrange pickups at designated areas on their mobile devices for quick trips to other cities or events. Modeled after Uber and Lyft, these ride-sharing apps have the potential to revolutionize the delivery systems for services to younger clientele.

“This is just the next phase in giving consumers what they want on the coach,” said Pantuso. “This is all data driven, mobile device driven. I think many of our members will react to this very quickly in their operations.”

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.