California’s Best Tours & Travel reopens strong after a tireless 2020 keeping customers, lawmakers and a changing traveling public close to its business
Best Tours & Travel’s recent reopening saw sellout tours and a continuing recovery in their private charter operations thanks to nonstop outreach throughout 2020s shut-down months that continues today.
With COVID-19, the Fresno, California motorcoach company faced the rockiest road ever in its 43-year history. A successful community outreach program has rebuilt customer confidence, and a brand relaunch featuring safe leisure tour packages is now attracting riders from every demographic. Working throughout the pandemic with staff intact, Best Tours & Travel was prepared to rise quickly when statewide restrictions ended in June.
And it has. Jasmine Sayah, director of oper-ations and next-generation leadership of the company founded by her parents, credits constant communication during lockdown. A big social media push during shutdown helped win back existing customers and attract new ones. “Our private charter business started coming back in the spring of 2021 when California opened up. Many of the tours sold out within 20 days of opening.” Charter capacity now stands at 100 percent with all of its 10 motorcoaches on the road in use.
Even after 23 years of experience in her family business, Sayah did not anticipate the COVID-19 shutdown’s impact on staff, families and the community. “Everything came to a standstill. We refunded everyone and were hit hard with deep revenue loss in 2020,” she said. “We filed for SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program and sold our oldest equipment which helped keep staff and their benefits in place.”
Today, they are ready to hire new team members. “We see opportunity and want to hire and train new drivers and technicians,” she said.
Travel that puts health and safety first
During lockdown and even today, Best Tours’ staff spent many hours on Zoom and telephone calls with buyers at corporations, colleges and national parks offering updates on the care and operations of its coach fleet including the latest sanitizing practices and safety mandates. Sayah said, “We know that COVID-19 will always be the first thing on passengers’ and clients’ minds before making a travel commitment for some time. By requiring that all passengers wear masks now, our riders can feel at ease and have confidence in the ability to travel by motorcoach.” The company will continue to provide hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes onboard.
On most trips, passengers are allowed to pick their seats so groups get the kind of travel experience they are comfortable with. “We are seeing some smaller groups of 30 or less still wanting a 56-passenger coach, and that is fine. We can accommodate most requests.”
Tours for every taste
As the economy reopens, domestic leisure travel leads business travel nation-wide as families reunite and vacation plans return. That is great news for Best Tours & Travel, which creates one-of-a-kind trips from one-day outings to overnight stays at popular destinations. “Our tours are guided and we always have a hostess onboard,” says Sayah, who often plans the trips herself and polls customers to learn their preferences. “We take the tour beforehand so we know the exact itinerary we want to pro-mote. If it’s good for me, I am confident it will be enjoyed by others.”
Reminding travelers about the advantages of motorcoach travel
With safety precautions in place, Sayah thinks it is time to restart the discussion about motorcoach travel’s traditional strengths. “We have a newer fleet of coaches powered by clean diesel engines,” she explains. “Travel by motorcoach is by far the greenest way to travel per passenger mile among planes, trains and cars.” Motorcoaches also beat the com-petition by checking all the boxes of what travelers want today: safety, savings and convenience. These features are also part of Best Tours’ longtime messaging to the community and clients it serves.
As a board member of the California Bus Association (CBA), Sayah supports CBA’s work on behalf of its members. When California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) required fleet renewal registration even though coaches were parked during the COVID shutdown, Sayah worked in cooperation with other CBA members, contacting her local representatives, to success-fully convince the California State Assembly to refund 2020 registration fees.
With future coffee dates planned with her local assembly members, Sayah says operators can benefit by getting involved and building rapport with their representatives and regulators at the local, state and federal level. “We are family-owned small businesses in a niche market. Our motor-coaches have a big impact. We are green, clean and necessary for leisure, corporate, athletic and school travel and to move groups of people in emergency situations.” She adds that public officials also benefit by understanding “the intricacies of our operations as they decide which regulations should impact our country’s transportation infrastructure. We want a seat at the table.”
A business built on relationships
Sayah was a newborn when her father Nick opened up a boutique travel agency specializing in tours. With a civil engineering degree and an established career as a travel agent working for airlines, his new business flourished. Best Tours decals started appearing on local rented motorcoaches and as the business grew, Nick Sayah took the financial leap to build his own fleet.
“I remember Saturday mornings getting up at 4:30 to go with mom and dad to the bus yard and help with paperwork and see the travelers off. It was the greatest fun in the world,” said Sayah. “Back then, everything was done the old-fashioned way. Yet the way they put relationships at the center of every-thing, that’s how we still operate today.”
Best Tours & Travel is also a member of the American Bus Association (ABA) and the United Motorcoach Association (UMA). At the CBA, Jasmine Sayah has served as a board member since 2019. She is also a member of ABA’s Women in Buses Council and board member of Saint Agnes Women’s Club.
“This past year was a true test of our faith and will,” she said. “So many of our longtime customers were cheering us on with words of encouragement. I am so grateful to them, my family, staff and industry friends for their support and to carry through these difficult and uncertain times.