Experiencing history and looking into the future at UMA EXPO 2020

by Joanne Cleaver

An electric motorcoach has been little more than science fiction for years–always just over the next hill on the highway.

That changes at the 2020 United Motorcoach Association Motorcoach EXPO, which launches Jan. 19 in Nashville. While battery-electric buses have appeared previously, a major manufacturer will unveil what it describes as the first practical electric-powered motorcoach. Designed for short hauls, the bus represents a major advance in battery technology and the first opportunity the industry will have to see the long-awaited advance.

For all industries, conferences are both famous and infamous as venues for networking, socializing, education and scouting. UMA’s Nashville event brings the motorcoach industry fresh approaches on all fronts, say staff and volunteer leaders.

Dave Dickson, chair of UMA’s meetings committee for the past six years, considers the Nashville location a win in itself. The EXPO is an awkward fit for many cities, he said, because it requires a great deal of exhibition space to accommodate 40 full-size buses but also delivers relatively few hotel rooms–about 1,700. The size of a convention is typically measured by the number of hotel rooms it claims at the host city.

Additionally, the UMA meetings committee always wants to choose a location that is fun for families and spouses to visit and that can offer a varied menu of dining and entertainment options, explained Dickson, owner of Elite Coach in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, an operator with a fleet of 39 coaches.

Nashville, with its sophisticated music and dining scenes, had been on Dickson’s radar for years. In 2021, the convention will be in Orange County, Florida. With plenty of bars, innovative restaurants and daytime shopping and cultural destinations within an easy walk of the EXPO, accompanying families will have plenty to do there, too, Dickson said.

Meanwhile, back at the EXPO, the big picture of business ownership, sustainability and succession will frame many of the education topics.

“We’re in a period in the industry that in its evolution, a lot of first-, second- and third-generation owners are deciding they have an asset to sell instead of expecting to hand the company to a new generation. Rollups, mergers and acquisitions are happening a lot now, and now company owners are wondering, how do I build an asset to sell [to a competitor or investor] rather than build a job for myself?” asked Stacy Tetschner, UMA president and chief executive officer.

Steering by business longevity instead of short-term concerns changes attendees’ perspectives on every aspect of the show, from investing in technology to making the most of UMA’s new alliance with the LinkedIn learning platform for multidimensional training. When return on investment is measured in years, not miles, company owners adopt different priorities, Tetschner added.

Change is accelerating for an industry that has been around since the stagecoach era. In 2019, a new exhibitor demonstrated how its digital tool enabled drivers to report problems and vehicle condition to the shop immediately so that by the time the he pulled into the driveway, parts and mechanics were ready.

Treating drivers right is a perennial theme for the convention, which is why UMA staff is glad to bring in Eric Chester, a speaker and trainer whose latest book, Fully Staffed, will likely hit the bullseye for operators looking for new ways to recruit, train and keep drivers. And a new minicoach pavilion will roll out a new on-ramp for aspiring company owners, especially those introduced to the industry by driving for on-demand platforms.

The EXPO is an annual opportunity to “celebrate people who are doing really well,” said Tetschner. “If we’re here to grow a bigger, better, smarter industry, this is where we come together on the issues everyone is invested in.”

Use these tips to get the most from your time at the UMA EXPO:

  • Rely on the UMA smartphone app for tracking your customized show schedule; finding exhibits and breakout rooms; sharing thoughts with other attendees; and reading last-minute show news, including the announcements of winners for drawings and contests.
  • Set meetings in advance not just with potential new vendors but also with ongoing vendors. Meeting them at the convention is a cost-effective way to make a personal connection that can get overlooked in the press of daily business.
  • Prioritize the educational sessions most important to you. The sessions tackle a spectrum of topics from market conditions and competition–such as how the limo industry is competing with the motorcoach industry–to tactical topics such as the latest in driver assistance systems.



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