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The digital revolution has arrived for the bus & coach industry

Marie Kress
Marie Kress, Business Analyst

With the beginning of the new year, the travel industry is on its toes – anticipating the recommencement of travel and preparing to welcome back passengers. As to when exactly this will happen is unclear, but what is certain is the bus and coach industry is in a state of flux and providers need to be ready – the digital revolution has arrived.

To reflect on recent developments and future predictions for the bus and coach industry in 2021 and beyond, Busworld Academy recently hosted a debate during which industry experts provided their insights.

So, what are the key issues that bus operators are facing? What are they doing to emerge from this crisis stronger? Are they prepared to cater for travelers and cope with increased demand? In this article, we sum up the five key takeaways highlighted during the Busworld Academy session.

Creating a customer experience is crucial

First and foremost, it’s clear that the bus sector is transforming in a similar way to the airline industry in recent years, evolving from simply selling tickets for seats to selling a travel experience for people journeying from A to B. This shift also requires a big leap in terms of digitalization and online presence. While there is great potential for growth in the market and a lot of opportunities for providers, the first step for them is building the right foundations during what are challenging times. However, these times are providing bus companies with the unique opportunity to make this move and make sure they emerge from this crisis as winners in the transport market by providing more services and digital accessibility for passengers.

Optimizing opportunities through online channels

The shape and form of the bus industry will change dramatically once the digital baseline has been established. Considering the overall changes in urban and international transport, bus experts envisage clear opportunities to capitalize on the demand with new offerings like semi-regular lines, on-demand solutions and overall shared, flexible transport beyond the sole usage of the common buses to cater to transport demands. In turn, this will address congestion and pollution issues in many urban areas, whilst achieving both space and cost-efficiency. Furthermore, online capabilities will give bus companies new ways to optimize their cost structures, capture new revenue streams through monetization and build new digital offerings.

Delivering digital services to meet increased demand

Central to the efforts of bus companies to get future-ready, a clear focus on customer centricity will be vital. Passengers are already online and based on other parts of their “digital lives” including social media, streaming platforms and new-age neobanks, which are all setting new standards for user experience; customers will also expect the same high-level service from the bus industry. In the mobility sector, true user-centric mobility is likely to become a reality within the next 10 or 20 years. Therefore, what companies do today should be steered towards this long-term goal, whilst maintaining agility along the way. In other words, providers now should be designing a customer-centric, yet flexible, digital presence which meets the ever-evolving demands of user groups and enhances the digital service experience.

An agile approach to gain competitive advantage

The fourth takeaway relates to the dynamics of the bus industry. At first sight, it is not a very fragmented market and smaller players appear to have a disadvantage. However, a strong digital focus and innovative spirit could give them a competitive advantage early on. Small players have the power to gain leverage by being ahead of large competitors and implementing a customer-centric strategy and being fast to market. They can fully rely on and quickly switch to online services, thus reducing costs and capturing some market share from bigger players. There shouldn’t be a fear of making wrong strategic decisions moving forward; there needs to be a willingness to embrace all channels and then foster the ones that deliver the best results. An agile mindset will pave the road to success here – companies should experiment, but be fast to react to the insights gained and change course when the data suggests a new path.

Enabling interconnection & evolving for the future

Lastly, the bus industry should prepare for an era of multimodal travel platforms, as well as the new business models and requirements that come alongside them. Bus operators which are able to freely switch on and off different channels will be the ones to drive growth and win in this future market. Even though this reality is further down the line, digital solutions should be built today with this in mind to enable the seamless connection for travelers between flight, bus and other transport options. Digitizing the core business remains the first step on the way to integrated, connected and customer-centric mobility, which will be the norm in decades to come.

The expansion of digital capabilities of all players in the bus industry will be significant, and it should not be forgotten that buses will not only be competing with each other in the post-crisis travel reality, but also with trains, air travel and other means of transportation both for short and long-distance journeys. Hence why a strong long-term vision is required and targeted investments in building a solid foundation for a digital bus business is the best strategy to take advantage of the opportunity to evolve and emerge from the crisis stronger than before.