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School’s out, and so are businesses

Bus operators and popular venues took a hit when the pandemic forced the cancellation of proms and class trips

When Gov. Phil Murphy officially announced that students wouldn’t be returning to their classrooms this year, parents and teachers weren’t the only ones weighted with disappointment. The industries that support student extracurriculars, like field trips and prom, were hit with a loss of revenue they’d relied on for years.

Tim Stout, president of Stout’s Transportation in Toms River and president of the Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association, told NJBIZ that the cancellation of class trips, sports games and student events have cut revenue for the year in what was expected to be a busy season.

Students are a meaningful part of the ridership at Stout’s Transportation and the other 51 GNJMA members, who say revenue is down 95 percent and statewide employment went from 3,500 to under 600.

highway in steppe against a blue sky,long road stretching out into the distance

“[O] nce the NBA announced they were cancelling transportation, that’s when I was really nervous,” said Tim Stout, president of Stout’s Transportation in Toms River and president of the Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association. – DEPOSIT PHOTOS

“When we had a GNJMA meeting in the first week of March, there were no changes in ridership and all our schools were still traveling. In that one week, once the NBA cancelled – we do the inbound NBA once whoever’s playing the Sixers fly into Philadelphia – once the NBA announced they were cancelling transportation, that’s when I was really nervous,” Stout said. “The NBA, the universities, the schools, it snowballed until it was down to zero. Within a week we went from sales for the month to zero.”

It doesn’t help that while airlines and Amtrak have gotten billions in federal relief money, the motorcoach industry has gotten nothing, despite transporting 600 million people each year nationally. It’s a $6.2 billion industry in New Jersey alone, and through June, operators will lose more than $130 million, according to the association.

If the motorcoach industry doesn’t get relief in future bailout packages, Stout worries that many of the players in it—mostly family-owned businesses like his, which was started by his grandfather—won’t be around when school trips are back up and running.

“People are like ‘I never really realized that my kid goes to Washington, D.C. on a motorcoach each year, and we might have to drive him next year because there won’t be any buses around.’” Stout said.

No dance tonight

Spring is prom season, and with prom cancelled, caterers, hotels, and event venues are left with empty rooms and chafing dishes.

Perona Farms in Andover hosts three or four high school proms each spring, and without school or sporting events allowed to take place, that revenue is lost; but the loss in revenue isn’t the only disappointment, owner Bryant Avandoglio said.

“A lot of our team members are part of those events as well, they’re finishing their high school career, and it’s sad for us to not see those kids at their prom. One of the things we enjoy is hosting our own team members at their proms and that’s something we’re going to miss a lot this year,” Avandoglio said.

Perona Farms also works in conjunction with vocational schools in Sussex County to give graduating students the opportunity to do and to thrive, and the on-campus meet-and-greet opportunities the students have with Perona Farms and others aren’t permitted, disallowing the parties from feeling out if they’re a right fit for each other.

And at Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant, what is typically peak season is now quieter than ever. Jenkinson’s starts booking class trips right after Labor Day, and late May field trips to the aquarium are typically booked out by mid-September.

“It’s an extremely busy and popular time of year for class trips to come. They’re a great source of revenue for the aquarium, and sometimes kids will also shop at the gift shop, some schools will book lunches, and some schools will even choose to get ice cream from the sweet shop,” said Jenkinson’s Director of Marketing Toby Wolf.

This time of year, school field trips are the majority of the business Wolf said. However, Jenkinson’s opted to close down before it was mandated by executive order.

“The original end date was the end of March, but in the meantime, the decision was taken out of our hands. So now it’s just a wait-and-see. Our ownership and management, they’re keeping in contact with state and local officials, and they’re also using the network we have through the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions to see how we can safely open once we’re allowed to,” Wolf said.

“We did run our annual Easter sale, online only, for buy-one-get-one ride credit cards,” she added. “The sale was relatively good based on all of the different [factors], and it was to me an indication that once it’s safe for people to go out and enjoy themselves in entertainment facilities, they’re looking forward to doing so.”

Gabrielle Saulsbery
Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.