Destinations Magazine - May/June 2018 - 9
LANE | TRENDS
First alert for travel news
For Profits, Take the Trolley
Operators explain why running trolleys has been a successful route for them
Some of Lamers
Bus Lines' trolleys
bench seats for a
PHOTO COURTESY OF LAMERS BUS LINES.
or Old Town Trolley Tours, it
all started in the 1970s in Key
West, Fla. Another company
offered guided tours in a
strange, amusement-park, miniature
Young entrepreneur Chris Belland,
now Old Town Trolley Tours' president,
saw an opportunity. He converted a
bread truck into something resembling
a trolley. It had a plywood roof with park
benches nailed to its frame for seats. A
year later, 70,000 tourists had ridden in
his contraption. Today, his company owns
130 trolleys and runs tours in seven major
tourism cities. Some industry insiders
call him "the king of trolley tours." And he
calls his business "transportainment."
Back in the day, Key West, like many
other cities, had streetcar trolleys
running on fixed lines. Urban renewal
tore up most of those tracks. Soon,
trolleys became artifacts of a long-gone
past. But like Old Town Trolley Tours,
some ABA member operators have
brought the past back to life, and they've
Viking Tours has
found that using trolley-replica buses
rounds out their fleets.
"It's not a business with highly profitable margins, but trolleys do fill a niche,"
says Allen Lamers, president of Lamers
Bus Lines Inc. of Green Bay, Wis. "They
will also help your overall image, showing
the public that you're providing transportation in a number of ways."
Operators typically use trolleys in two
ways-for regular city runs under contract
with a municipality and for weekend weddings. "They work well, if you can work
with a town that wants a more elegant
experience," says John Meier, president
of Badger Bus of Madison, Wis. His
company has three trolleys. Some make
six-day-a-week evening runs between
hotels and a tourist district. He says his
wedding business is "very strong," noting
that people are starting to get married on
Fridays and Sundays, too.
"We wish we could stretch weddings
beyond Fridays and Saturdays," says
Karen Oakley, president of Viking Tours
of Newport, R.I. "But people don't like
to get married on Tuesdays!" Her company lets wedding parties decorate her
company's trolleys with bows, flowers,
and wreaths. As Newport is a huge tourist
destination, Viking uses its eight trolleys
mostly for daily tours.
Trolleys do have drawbacks. "They're
limited in where they can go and how
far they can travel," she said, noting that
her glass-enclosed, air-conditioned, and
heated trolleys only run within a 50- to
Viking, which has run trolleys since
1986, has found that corporate groups will
ride them, too. "They are a nice alternative
to what people think of as a 'bus,'" Oakley
says. "Sometimes when booking, people
are more prone to say, 'I'll take the trolley'
when they wouldn't get on a motorcoach."
Trolleys have other pluses motorcoaches
don't have. They cost far less to operate.
While their utilization may be on "the
lower end," according to Meier, "when you
start putting the miles on them, they're
pretty efficient and fairly inexpensive
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