Will Greyhound bring glamour to the motorways?

Can you make coach travel glamorous, stylish or even just a reasonable alternative to travelling at your own speed in the comfort of your own car? In short, can you sell coach travel on more than just the cheap price?

Branwell Johnson

FirstGroup is having a go with the launch of the Greyhound bus brand into the UK. Initially, the service will travel between London and Portsmouth and Southampton. The company is going out with the strapline “The Greyhound has landed” and is selling on more than the cheap (average fare £7) ticket.

The press and outdoor imagery focuses on the sleek lines of the coach and the marketing messages will dwell on the expanded leg room. I’ve tried the seats and it’s definitely an improvement on previous coach experiences I’ve endured. There’s also free wi-fi and FirstGroup will also promote the environmental aspect of coach travel.

The branding has a nod to the US origins by naming each coach after women in well-known popular songs, for example Peggy Sue. However, FirstGroup is not going for the full-on stars and stripes marketing razzamatazz that it could’ve done, given the Greyhound’s profile in Hollywood films. Maybe, like other US brands, it’s aware that now is still not quite the time for triumphant Americanism, despite a resurgence of some goodwill thanks to Obama’s election win.

FirstGroup seems to have everything in place for good run at the market. It has a brand with high awareness, definable service differences from competitors and a clear idea of its target market, which it says is mainly car owners fed up with the stress of driving and who would rather someone else took the strain.

And yet there are certain hurdles to clear. There is still a stigma to coach travel, despite the best efforts of National Express, with the perception that it is a mode of travel for students and the less well-off, I’ve got friends, in the Green party no less, who would not countenance it.

As the Divine Comedy sang : “Take the national express when your life’s in a mess/ It’ll make you smile/All human life is here/ From the feeble old dear to the screaming child”

All human life was there last time I took a Greyhound, from the man just released from prison after serving a term for manslaughter to the couple of young runaways and the wife looking for her missing husband. But last time I took the Greyhound I was jobless myself. A more recent trip in the UK on a National Express coach in the depths of winter was a fairly gruelling experience too.

Interestingly, at the launch press conference, Greyhound fielded a query about carrying Portsmouth football fans with good humour and said sports fans would be important to business. I’m not so sure I’d be happy to book myself on and find myself surrounded by Pompey’s finest.

I think success is going to be down to word of mouth and sampling. It is a brand with great pedigree, pardon the pun, and customers may initially be attracted just to say they’ve taken a ride on a Greyhound, much as people travelled to the reopened St Pancras Eurostar terminus just to look at the building and drink at the champagne bar – to have an experience. FirstGroup should know if it has a success on its hands within the year.

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