How to Win Overseas Customers

How to Win Overseas Customers

By: ABA Media

A staggering 54 million people visited the U.S. from other countries in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. With America being the promised land for international tourists, savvy ABA members in cities large and small need to consider how they can better promote their business to travelers abroad—from China to Chile and from England to Ecuador.

Even so, other nations are fighting for tourism dollars. About 700,000 fewer international visitors came to the U.S. in the first quarter of 2017 as compared to the year before, reported the Department of Commerce. That means motorcoach operators and destinations are competing for a smaller pool of visitors.

To spark ideas on winning foreign business, The Insider asked three ABA members in different travel sectors—motorcoach and tour operations, city tours, and a major city convention and visitors bureau—how they capture and win over international tourists.

Here is what our members had to say:

Bob Schwartz, Director of Marketing and Sales
Boston Duck Tours
Boston, Mass.

How many years has your company been going after foreign business?
We have always appreciated our foreign visitors since we started in 1994, and always had information available in other languages, but we really tailored the tour to our foreign guests’ needs starting in 2014, with our GPS-activated foreign language tours from our Prudential Center location. Thirteen of our 28 DUCKS are outfitted with this technology, and we hope to have all of our DUCKS and all three of our departure locations outfitted with this technology in the next three to five years.

What countries or regions do you focus on?
Our foreign language tour is offered in nine different languages—Spanish, Italian, German, French, Mandarin, Japanese, Cantonese, Korean, and Portuguese. We focus on all of Central and South America, Europe, and the Far East in Asia. We find guests from these areas are traveling more to Boston for business and pleasure.

How do you create your marketing strategies and/or ad materials? Do you use outside contractors?
We use a third-party contractor to translate our materials for us for our foreign-speaking guests.

What percent of your business comes from visitors outside the U.S.?
About 20 percent. We have seen this grow over the years with the introduction of our new foreign language tours. It’s the first and only GPS-activated city tour in Boston for guests from other countries.

What have you learned about different cultures in terms of what works and doesn’t work?
When looking to obtain materials or tours in other languages for your guests, work with your city or state tourism office to see who your largest foreign markets are. They are going to be the bulk of your business. The saying, “If you build it, they will come,” will work as long as the markets you are looking to go after are already strong in your area. Just because you have a tour in Swahili doesn’t mean you are going to singlehandedly grow business from Tanzania or Kenya.


Claudia Menezes, Vice President
Pegasus Transportation
Orlando, Fla.

How many years has your company been going after foreign business?
We started business in 1994 as a bus operator. Then, we got into tour and corporate, and we contract with most attractions in Florida. We operate 30 full-size motorcoaches plus mini-coaches. After 9/11, we began to diversify into foreign business.

What countries or regions do you focus on?
Very heavily on Europe and Latin America, and we focus on China.

How do you create your marketing strategies and/or ad materials? Do you use outside contractors?
We do all our marketing in-house. We are members of all the international tourism bureaus. We market directly, do sales calls, do big trade shows, and constantly visit other countries. We are very diversified. Our operators speak Portuguese, German, Spanish, and Mandarin.

What percent of your business comes from visitors outside the U.S.?
Only 30 percent of our passengers are from outside the U.S. Our foreign customers are 50 percent adults and 50 percent students. (In South America, it’s a big cultural thing to send “Sweet 16” parties to the U.S.) But if you’re talking about income, foreign income is bigger from international groups than domestic groups

What have you learned about different cultures in terms of what works and doesn’t work?
When you’re working with international clients, you have to know how they do business. You can’t demand that, “We’re in America, and we do business like this.” Otherwise, another company’s going to be more flexible.

The way to negotiate with various countries can be different. You may need to be more flexible, if that’s part of the culture. With other countries, you may be able to go straight to the point. With them, you may need to give more attention to their management and the kind of product they like. Some groups and countries may be more focused on food. If they are spending 10 to 12 days here, they want to eat their kind of food. Meanwhile, some people from some countries pay more attention to the event side. Even inside a country like Brazil, there can be two kinds of culture.

What advice would you have for other ABA members?
Know the customers you want to target. Learn their culture. People from international markets need to feel very comfortable. They want to go with a company who speaks the same language. Some cultures need to feel you care about them. Brazil is very heavy on this, and Brazilians want to know you understand the size and importance of their country.

The information you present in foreign language tours has to be presented in an educational and entertaining way that will appeal to that culture. Some things that may be funny in English do not translate into other languages. Things that may be funny in French are not funny in Mandarin. Hire a company that will know these intricacies and help you script each tour if you pre-record your information.

What advice would you have for ABA members who want to expand into this area?
Start small. Put information in other languages in your print materials and on your website, and see what business that brings in. This way, you can watch the business grow from taking these steps, and use this data to help convince your company’s owners that this will be a necessary step to take to help grow your foreign market business. Now more than ever, the U.S. tourism market needs to step up and let our overseas friends know the U.S. wants them to visit. We want them to know that we are doing everything we can to make their trips here more pleasant by offering them the same experiences in their languages that we would have in their countries in English.


Stacey Yates, CTA, Vice President of Marketing Communications
Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau
Louisville, Ky.

How many years has Louisville been going after foreign business?
At least since 1994, ebbing and flowing with the efforts of our state tourism office.

What countries or regions do you focus on?
We have ongoing efforts and an active presence in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Germany. We also partner with Travel South to expand our reach in Australia, China, and France.

How do you create your marketing strategies and/or ad materials? Do you use outside contractors?
We have an alliance with our state tourism office and partner cities in Kentucky to market as a region under the “Visit KY” brand. Outside contractors are employed in the U.K. and in the Irish and German markets. Strategic partnerships have also been formed through both Travel South and Brand USA. Last year, an opportunity with a local bourbon brand gave us the opportunity to leverage additional marketing opportunities in the U.K. around the release of Statesman Bourbon and its inclusion in the worldwide debut of the Fox-produced Kingsman movie sequel The Golden Circle.

What percent of your business comes from visitors from outside the U.S.?
About 3 to 4 percent of Louisville visitors are international, according to the state’s tourism data.

What have you learned about different cultures in terms of what works and doesn’t work?
We have found that once an international visitor has experienced U.S. destinations such as New York, Orlando, and Las Vegas on their first trips to the states, they are often hungry for the authentic American experience that can so easily be found in the South. We like to say that if you are looking for natural beauty, waterways, outdoor adventure, hospitality, regional cuisine, and, of course, a completely authentic culture like bourbon, all of those things that appeal to the international visitor are “Better in the Bluegrass.”

More specific to Louisville, we know Muhammad Ali resonates around the world, and we do a lot around marketing a pilgrimage-type visit to his hometown and the experiences at the Muhammad Ali Center, Cave Hill Cemetery (his final resting place), and other touchpoints.

What advice would you have for other ABA members who want to expand into this area?
Never try to go it alone in the international market. Be sure to be an active part of your state’s international outreach. See the broader picture. Recognize the important work being done on behalf of promoting the U.S. as a destination and leverage opportunities within organizations such as Travel South and Brand USA.

Last but not least, remember that while you are selling your destination to the international market, you must also sell the international market to your local partners. Gain their support and educate them on what it takes to book business from an international perspective and how best to serve international guests upon arrival.

About the American Bus Association

The American Bus Association (ABA) is the trade organization of the intercity bus industry, with more than 1,000 motorcoach and tour company members in the United States and Canada. Its members operate charter, tour, regular route, airport express, special operations and contract services. Another 2,800 members are travel and tourism organizations and suppliers of bus products and services who work in partnership with the North American motorcoach industry.


Melanie Hinton, Vice President, Communications & Marketing, ABA
Office: (202) 218-7220
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)