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Road transport stories: coach tourism, fighting for survival
Europe | Stockholm

Road transport stories: coach tourism, fighting for survival

11 May 2020

Founded by Karl-Erik Bergh and his son Mikael in 1984, MK Bussresor is a coach tourism company operating from Sweden. Over the past thirty years, its offering has grown from trips within Sweden, Finland and Norway, to an international list of destinations. But with the travel restrictions in place since the beginning of the pandemic the business of MK Bussresor came to a halt. Helen Bergh, who today runs the company with her husband Mikael and their children, tells us about the current situation. 

Your coach company experienced a drastic slowdown since the breakout of Covid-19. How much has your business gone down?
We noticed the first impacts in February, because the booking of trips for spring and summer has seen a slowdown. We lost 60% of business in February and 100% in March. 
This time of the year, we would have ten buses on the road, but they are all parked. 

In light of the situation, have you managed to keep all your employees? 
Most of our drivers work on contract basis. We had to let one driver go, while others are not being hired because of the lack of demand. 
In our office, we are five people. All of us still work, thanks to the state-aid by the Swedish government.

What do your customers say – when will they come back?
We still have contact with most of our customers. They are all waiting to see when they will be able to travel again, but this is unpredictable. And because most of them are older and thus considered a risk category, they are afraid of travelling this year. Others really look forward to travelling but because of travel restrictions as well as the fear of getting sick, they prefer to stay at home. 

What kind of support have you gained from the Swedish government and from your national federation, The Swedish Bus and Coach Federation?
The government is paying about 50% of our salaries and as company, we pay 30% to our employees. The initial aid started at the beginning of April, which was a relatively quick response. We still need more though, not just for our company but for the whole industry to survive so that the services we offer can be delivered. 

Last week, the Swedish government committed to more support for every company which has lost over 30% of their business. We look forward to finding out more about the terms and further steps of this additional aid. 

The Swedish Bus and Coach Federation got very good information to us and to other members: we had a weekly meeting for the coach operators, to share our experience and best practices. The Federation also has been sending us regular updates on new regulations and government decisions. At national level, it escalated our needs and demands to governments, which led to unlocking funds for the industry.

It was important for us to receive all of this information. In addition to helping us plan and stay aware of the current news, it also gave us hope in the midst of the pandemic. 

Sweden is one of the few European countries which has not imposed a lock down. Your schools and restaurants are still open and people are allowed to go to work. How has if affected you professionally?
For our business, the impact was that of a de facto lock down. The government doesn’t say travel is forbidden, but it does encourage the population to stay at home. Only short trips, limited to 50 people are allowed. Our international business is of course shut down due to the border crossing restrictions. 

When the business eventually picks up, what social distancing measures will you be taking? 
When we are able to travel again, we will for sure look at establishing safe distances between people.  But for now what we foresee is a slow pick up, during which keeping the distance will unlikely become a problem. 

Right now, we are ready to restart our business tomorrow, if it becomes an option. The problem is that nobody has booked any trips yet, and some hotels are still closed.  

What measures do you consider as immediately necessary, to help your business survive? 
We have managed to find a compromise with banks to postpone loan repayments, and secure loans to help us weather the coming months. 

We are also expecting the government’s decision on the reimbursement of cancelled trips. 
For us, with the current liquidity problems we’re facing, getting more cash out to reimburse our customers is close to impossible. We hope an adapted decision is taken to support us on this.

"If we don’t receive any more help from the government, and if there is no business for this autumn (the high season for Swedes to travel to Europe) we won’t be able to survive past September."

Helen Bergh
MK Bussresor