Southern operators celebrate pandemic survival with zombie fun

When 70 motorcoach operators and industry vendors gathered from six Southern states in July in the Atlanta area, they were treated to a special dinner event featuring characters from “The Walking Dead” in nearby Senoia, where the popular TV series is filmed.

The show is about survivors of a zombie apocalypse trying to stay alive under the near-constant threat of attacks from zombies known as “walkers.”

In many ways, the motorcoach industry can relate to the popular show’s characters. Just exchange zombies for the near-constant challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down travel for more than a year and decimated half the industry. The July gathering offered a chance for the industry’s survivors to get together, celebrate their survival and make plans for thriving in the months and year ahead.

Southern motorcoach operators celebrate pandemic survival with some zombie fun.

Even with the current challenges of driver and mechanic shortages, the industry appears to be on the rebound. The overall tone of the meeting was positive, and most generally felt the meeting was a big step toward returning to normal, organizers said. 

“It was a great week seeing friends and operators,” said Clarence Cox, of Georgia Coach Lines in Fayetville, Georgia, and a member of both the Georgia Motorcoach Operators Association (GMOA) and the United Motorcoach Association (UMA). 

Education, industry updates

GMOA hosted the annual meeting on July 24-27, which included the Alabama Motorcoach Association (AMA) and South Central Motorcoach Association (SCMA), in Peachtree City, outside of Atlanta. Operators hailed from the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. 

An important part of the meeting was education and industry updates. 

UMA Vice President, Legislative & Regulatory Affairs & Industry Relations/COO Ken Presley presented on the model motorcoach driver curriculum followed by a roundtable discussion.

More than 70 motorcoach operators gathered in Georgia for a 3-day conference.

Chris Riddell, CEO of The Bus Network, spoke about using social media marketing to elevate business, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Outgoing UMA board of directors President Alan Thrasher, co-owner of Thrasher Brothers Trailways, moderated a panel featuring Presley and American Bus Association President and CEO Pete Pantuso. Each provided a recap and some insight into the associations’ priorities.

Mike Vescio, of Discover DeKalb Convention and Visitors Bureau and longtime member of the GMOA board of directors, moderated a new-member orientation panel, featuring Julie Levengood, of the Tuscarawas County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Lori Huffstutler, of the Graceland Division, Elvis Presley Enterprises; and Julia Isaacs, of Morris Meeting Management. 

New buses to check out

Attendees also had an opportunity to see several of the newest buses and coaches on display: MCI’s J4500, Prevost’s H3–45, Temsa’s TS 35 and National Bus Sales’ Ultra Coachliner.

The boards of directors for GMOA, AMA and SCMA conducted their annual meetings, which included approving new leadership and other business. 

Alan Thrasher hands the gavel to AMA President Eureka Thompson.

For AMA, that meant the passing of the gavel from the organization’s board President, Alan Thrasher, to Eureka Thompson, of Takers Transportation in Huntsville, Alabama, who previously served as the board’s Vice President. Thrasher took on the role of Immediate Past President. Wayne Ellis, of Covenant Elite Charters & Tours in Loxley, Alabama, stepped up as Vice President; and Patti Culp, with Alabama Travel Council, was appointed Associate Director.

As Thrasher stepped down, he was honored for his service with the Frank E. Montgomery III award, AMA’s award for outstanding service, Thrasher was recognized for his leadership during the pandemic and for his involvement in the industry on behalf of the operators, such as serving on the board of UMA and as chair of the UMA’s Legislative & Regulatory Committee, where he was instrumental in seeking the CERTS Act funds. He has built a reputation for working especially hard on behalf of operators.

The honor is special for Thrasher. His dad, the late Jim Thrasher, was previously presented with the award.

“I was presented with a very special award, named for a man I was friends with, with a kind speech by Cary Martin, of Little Rock Tours. This award is not presented every year, so it is very special to me,” Thrasher said.

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