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The Mature Traveler

One Couple's Motor-Coach Love Affair Keeps on Rolling

August 02, 1987|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 25-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks.

It has been an ideal marriage for Jack and Laurie Webster, both on matrimonial and business levels. The latter is where travel comes in.

Laurie, a Pepperdine University graduate, had experience in promotion, marketing and travel. Husband Jack had more than 17 years of motor-coach experience with Trailways. It was only natural that they join and form Main Street Tours, specialists in motor-coach tours for seniors.

That was just over two years ago. Since then they have operated more than 400 trips for about 200 senior groups. They made a conservative estimate of having served more than 7,000 passengers, many of them repeaters.

"About 99.9% of our business is the mature traveler, namely seniors belonging to an established travel club or senior center," says Jack, who is executive vice president. Wife Laurie is the president and has a staff of one--Jack.

"We have always served senior groups," Laurie says. "They are so easy to work with and so appreciative. They just want to have fun and see the country. We try to give them a quality tour at a price they can afford."

Small But Efficient

To keep overhead down, Jack and Laurie operate out of a small but efficient office. Their work is streamlined by computers and other electronic gear. Rather than own and operate their own buses as they planned when they started, only to find insurance rates prohibitive, they lease motor coaches for all of their tours.

"That was one of our hardest jobs," Laurie says. "Jack knows motor-coach operations and maintenance and he checked for a year before we settled on the right one in Hot Dogger Tours Inc.

"Hot Dogger seems an odd name to be running senior tours for us," Jack says, "but they do a great job. They started out with ski tours, hence the name. Many of their drivers are regulars with us, having taken dozens and dozens of tours."

Even with the fine motor-coach maintenance service and inspection by the California Highway Patrol, Main Street Tours still provides $5 million insurance for groups while on one of its motor-coach tours.

Main Street Tours has chiefly been working only with senior groups. Its tour catalogue has more than 100 day tours, about 40 overnight or longer tours and several extended one- to three-week tours. It also custom designs a ur if a club is seeking something other than what's offered in the 60-page catalogue.

With all this, it has been a seven-day-a-week job for Jack and Laurie. Weekdays are spent working with groups, constant checking on the computers and telephones for reservations for hotels, meals and all other details of the tour operation.

"Our weekends are mostly spent checking out the suppliers and vendors on the various tour routes, making sure they're doing their jobs," Laurie says. "And when we can, we're always looking for completely new tour ideas, or ways to make existing tours better."

"While we do run several tours to Las Vegas, Laughlin, Reno and Lake Tahoe, they are overall sightseeing tours with a stop in the gaming city," says Jack. "We don't want to run one-day gambling quickies. We're happy to suggest other tour operators who specialize in these trips to senior groups."

Open to the Public

This year Main Street is opening a few of its long tours to the public, a circumstance helped along because it is often hard for any of the many smaller senior groups to get enough passengers to fill a motor coach.

First of the trips is an 18-day fly/drive trip to Eastern Canada and New England, set for Oct. 5 to 22 and priced at $1,995 per person, double occupancy. The trip includes a flight to Chicago to pick up a deluxe motor coach for the swing through the United States and Canada that includes Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City, then New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Then comes a trip on the Bluenose Ferry to Maine, and the U.S. section includes Bar Harbor, Me., then through New England at the height (hopefully) of the fall foliage season. Stops are scheduled at Stowe, Vt., North Conway, N.H., then down to Gettysburg, the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, across Pennsylvania and Ohio to Indianapolis for the flight back home.

Accommodations are first-rate, including such places as the Foxhead Sheraton Inn in Niagara Falls, Canada, Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City and the Halifax Sheraton in Nova Scotia. Thirteen meals, including a traditional Maine lobster clambake, are included.

A similar itinerary, except by motor coach round trip from Los Angeles, lasting 28 days and priced at $1,200 per person, double occupancy, is being planned as an optional way to go.

For 1987, Main Street Tours has also branched out to offering Hawaiian tours and trips for groups or individuals. Jack and Laurie work with Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, known for its senior discounts. These range from one-week, one-island tours to tours of more than one island.

Information: Main Street Tours, Jack or Laurie Webster, 4455 Torrance Blvd., Suite 406, Torrance, Calif. 90503; (213) 540-6737 or (800) 231-7412. Tour program chairmen or chairwomen requesting Main Street Tours' "Group Tour Planning Guide" for senior groups are asked to write on their club's letterhead.

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