On Target 13 – Define the hirer
For most coach operators and indeed bus operators who hire buses to groups, the words ‘private hire’ cover a whole range of business, which presents itself as an opportunity to either fill in gaps around the bread and butter contract business, or as an enterprise. But what exactly is ‘private hire’?
The dictionary definition is:-
- Private – intended for or restricted to the use of a particular person, group, or class
- Hire – obtain the temporary use of (something) for an agreed payment
The word ‘restricted’ is very apt, as most individuals don’t regularly hire coaches, so the market is very limited, but the number of passengers, represent a large number, at the behest of a few individuals who have the power to choose who they use. However, it also means I can target my marketing for private hire, to those who have enough friends, members, students or clients to fill up a whole coach. Compared to my holiday and day trip programme, where I must find at least 30 people to fill each coach, this sounds easy. But is it?
We can break down those who privately hire coaches as follows:
- Individuals, occasional hire (once in a lifetime) for a special occasion
- Clubs and societies, who like to travel to places of interest as a group, sports organisations; a good source
- Travel professionals, those who organise groups or gather together individuals into groups (tour operators)
- Corporate bodies, requiring group travel for their staff or clients
- Schools and educational establishments, for field trips
Those who hire coaches, leave it later and later each year. As Alex Ferguson said, it’s ‘squeaky bum time.’
I regard private hire as ad-hoc business, with annual revenue from this source at Marksman Travel around £1m, but at the beginning of each year I have no bookings and start to worry, as those who hire coaches, leave it later and later each year. As Alex Ferguson said, it’s ‘squeaky bum time.’ However, it usually ends up about the same. For that reason, I would far rather have regular business that I can budget and price up, with some certainty.
I don’t see British Airways doing private hire, they have more sense than have their expensive planes in the hanger, waiting for Mrs Miggins to hire, in-midsummer and wondering why it costs so much. Come to think of it, I can’t think of any large passenger-carrying conveyance other than coaches that are held back, in case they are needed. Cunard have filled up QM2 years ahead, with individuals and when did you last hear of someone hiring a whole train, although I remember going on a Sunday school outing in the late ‘50s when the church had done just that…
We live in a ‘want it now’ society. If I want to buy something, I go on Amazon and get it next day. That’s another job out of the way. Private hire cars and taxis are examples of immediate availability, you hail a taxi on the street or pre-book a private hire car with no than 24 hours’ notice, usually these days, online. If it’s UBER, you do it a few minutes before.
For that reason, many people expect the same when they need a coach. How many operators offer 24/7 booking and pricing? I know I don’t. However, coach brokers often do and therefore they take advantage of the increasing tendency to book last minute and get us to do the work on their behalf. This might well be the future, with the operator just supplying the coaches and someone else finding the work.
I can’t afford to market private hire on any large scale, because the market is so restricted, I have regular clients, but as they die off, who is replacing them? Growing awareness of coach travel and seeking new markets is essential, but I am not sure I have the time or expertise to do that. If I employ someone, will the end justify the means?