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ABA Marketplace spotlights Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Some 2,500 tourism and transportation industry workers gathered in Nashville, January 11-15, for the American Bus Association (ABA) Marketplace, an event that has become the largest group tourism trade gathering in the United States.

The conference included numerous business appointment sessions, as well as educational seminars, networking opportunities, sightseeing tours and social events that highlighted Nashville’s tourism offerings.

ABA president and CEO Peter Pantuso said that the size and scope of the conference represented growth potential in the group tourism industry.

“Our shows are always reflections of what is happening in the industry,” he said. “Here you see excitement and a high level of participation. It’s a signal that the industry is moving up and doing more.”

The potential increase in tourism seems to mirror the increase in the use of motorcoaches for scheduled, point-to-point travel, an area that ABA also monitors. During the conference ABA and DePaul University announced the results of a joint, multi-year study of the bus travel industry, which found that city-to-city carriers, such as BoltBus and, expanded their number of daily operations by 4 percent in 2013. The study also found that consumers who traveled by bus paid an average of 52 percent less than the cost of traveling by rail and 79 percent less than the cost of traveling by air.

Pantuso also addressed some of the issues that ABA is working on in the government and marketing spheres in 2014.

“One of the biggest challenges that travel and tourism had in 2013 was the government shutdown,” he said. “It looks like the appropriators have worked things out so that we’ll avoid that this year.”

During the conference, ABA handed out numerous awards to organizations and individuals. CoachUSA/ and H&L charters received the Green Operator Award for advancements made in the environmental friendliness of their fleets. Mary Young of Capitol Tours in West Columbia, South Carolina, was awarded the association’s first-ever Women in Buses Award.

Nashville’s tourism promoters took advantage of the conference to showcase attractions around town and their worldwide reputation as America’s “Music City.” An opening evening event at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum featured performances by popular country music artists Phil Vassar and Martina McBride. A luncheon later in the week included a performance by James Dean Hicks, who has written hit songs for artists such as Randy Travis, Blake Shelton, the Oak Ridge Boys and Conway Twitty.

A second evening event featured a private session of The Grand Old Opry, with performances by Opry members Darius Rucker, Alison Krauss, the Gatlin Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show. Chip Esten, a singer-songwriter who also plays the role of Deacon on the television show “Nashville,” also made a surprise appearance.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.