Merging the Past With the Future of the Tour Bus
Change is never easy. For in-destination operators around the world, the need to innovate has never been greater. Technology is transforming how we travel. More importantly, tastes are evolving rapidly, and the desire for more ‘authentic experiences’ that connect travelers to their destination are placing new demands on operators. For Dan Rogoski, President and Chief Revenue Officer of The Ride in New York City, that meant transforming one of the oldest types of experiences around: the sightseeing bus tour.
The company was originally founded by Broadway entrepreneurs trying to create a new sidewalk theater experience. Customers would sit on a custom-designed bus with floor-to-ceiling windows and sideways-facing seats. The theater concept never caught on. Five years ago Rogoski and his business partners saw an opportunity in those buses. They purchased the company and immediately went about moving The Ride into the tours and activities space. The ability to think outside of the box, or in this case, the bus, led them to reconsider what a tour bus was capable of providing.
The Ride morphed into a sightseeing experience that uses those same buses to traverse the streets of Manhattan. But unlike a traditional sightseeing bus tour that takes travelers to famous buildings or landmarks, The Ride engages its sideways-facing travelers with interactive street performances along the route. Everything from rappers, to ballet dancers, to singers will perform for The Ride’s travelers from the street. The tours are hosted by a comedian, and it gives tourists a chance to experience the creative vibrancy that New York is known for.
Today, the company owns four multi-million-dollar buses and has expanded its offerings to include several different tours. For example, the recently introduced ‘Downtown Experience’ uses virtual reality headsets to showcase the history of New York. Rogoski has been able to integrate cutting-edge technology into a traditional platform like a bus tour and produce a never-before-seen historical glimpse of the city.
“One of the moments is George Washington being sworn in at town hall in 1789, and we recreated that with actors in period costume in front of a green screen. It really puts you in the moment,” Rogoski explains. “Another is a moment from the stock market crash and an immigrant seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. We’re revolutionizing how people experience the city.”
“In the current climate of this industry, people are really looking for that unique experience. People are willing to pay higher prices for a premium experience.”
A Premium Ride
The company has invested significantly to create custom buses and integrating new technology, which means it is not the cheapest bus tour in town. But The Ride’s growth and strong performance on TripAdvisor suggests travelers are willing to pay.
“In the current climate of this industry, people are really looking for that unique experience,” Rogoski says. “People are willing to pay higher prices for a premium experience.”
Does The Ride’s success mean every bus operator should run out and invest in VR or hire a ballet dancer? Not necessarily. Every tour company, and certainly every destination, is different. But what’s fascinating about The Ride is that it has embraced changes in both technology and customer preferences to reimagine the traditional sightseeing experience. Today’s travelers are seeking different experiences, and innovative thinking is vital to attracting them.
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