Quaint destinations are popular for many features, not necessarily for expanses of ample, convenient parking. Tensions between locals and the tourism trade are common when too many motorcoaches arrive on the same pleasant days.
That was the topic of a session held during the 2019 annual meeting of the New England Bus Association (NEBA), one of the motorcoach industry’s largest regional organizations. The gathering was held in one of those quaint destinations—Kennebunkport, Maine.
Laura Dolce, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce, said the bus parking issue crops up not only in charming New England towns, but in many locations throughout the U.S. The simultaneous arrival of a large number of buses in a small town creates some stress.
Many shop owners and tourist attractions welcome the burst of business, particularly in an area like Maine where business is seasonal. Local residents and stores that don’t depend on tourism often see it differently.
Dolce pointed out that on one particular day Kennebunkport, a village of approximately 4,000 residents, a total of 27 coaches show up, many of them unexpected. Kennebunkport regularly welcomes busloads of folks from cruise ships, but on this day a number of additional coaches arrived. The Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce tries to meet every tour bus, but on this day it was overwhelmed.
Dolce told the group that, in addition to greeting incoming groups, the Chamber helps point drivers to designated parking areas (some free, some paid) and provides local knowledge. Their job is made easier when bus lines give them a 24-hour alert on the “Motorcoaches” section of their website, gokennebunks.com, or by calling ahead at 207-967-0857.
Mitch Guralnick, secretary/treasurer of NEBA and a bus industry veteran, said this was a problem at many tour destinations nationwide, where local residents often don’t understand the benefits coaches bring and look at buses as being simply being in their way.
According to Guralnick, the danger is that, unless coach operators and organizations get involved early, towns may go too far in enacting parking and traffic regulations that severely impact motorcoach access. Ideally rules can be worked out, before things become critical, in ways that address the needs of both tour operators and local residents.
Many destinations, like Kennebunkport, have active Chambers of Commerce that can provide information and services, often free, if motorcoach operators contact them in advance. This smooths the way for customers and drivers, as well as reducing the risk of enticing towns to enact poorly conceived regulations.