Gray Line Buses Crave the Spotlight

Sightseeing Company Glad to Provide Wheels for 'Rachael Ray,' Other Shows

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Among the usual throngs that crowd onto those double-decker buses that ferry tourists around the Big Apple today were two not-so-usual suspects: Rachael Ray and Ed McMahon.
Gray Line's partnership with films and TV shows allows the bus company to reach an international audience of potential tourists for little or no cost.
Gray Line's partnership with films and TV shows allows the bus company to reach an international audience of potential tourists for little or no cost.

The talk-show host and former talk-show-host sidekick boarded and rode off on one of those ubiquitous red buses -- this one adorned with a huge ad for the "Rachael Ray" show -- accompanied by a film crew and studio audience. (Conveniently, the group gathered right outside Ad Age's offices.) It was all part of a segment on Ms. Ray's program cooked up with the company that runs those red buses, oddly called Gray Line New York Sightseeing. Gray Line has also been featured prominently in a recent episode of "Project Runway" and this year's film "What Happens in Vegas," and will be part of the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall. None of that's been happenstance.

Cost-effective marketing
David Chien, director-marketing for Gray Line New York, said the partnership with films and TV shows allows the bus company to reach an international audience of potential tourists for little or no cost. "Our bus is as iconic as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building," he said. The double-deckers have been featured in shows including "Good Morning America," "Today," "CSI" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The programs use the buses for transportation and marketing; Gray Line attains greater visibility.

That's become even more important for Gray Line -- which sees itself as an entertainment company -- at a time when tourism has been shaky and the economy rocky. "Our marketing department has a set budget," Mr. Chien said, declining to disclose the figure. "We like to be tied to a type of branding that is family- and eco-friendly."

Gray Line is part of U.K. transportation giant Stagecoach Group, which owns, among other things, Coach USA and sightseeing buses in other North American markets. The publicly held parent company does not break out revenue for Gray Line, but according to its website, Stagecoach operates 2,800 buses in North America and has a 19% share of the "fragmented" North American transportation market.

Movie cameos
Gray Line will also be featured in upcoming films, Mr. Chien said, though he declined to name them, in addition to a cameo the brand had in this year's "What Happens in Vegas" starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. "The producer wrote a specific scene for us," said Mr. Chien.

Even the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" has a 12-minute video segment where the Rockettes dance on the bus as it glides through Central Park.

The company has also added a new twist to attract more traffic with a tour that offers "an exceptional dining experience through the neon-glitter streets of Manhattan" or open-air dining while riding the bus. The price, including a chicken, beef or vegetable entrée, is $59 per person. Grey Line is also offering a "summer special" that offers patrons, among other things, a chance to meet a Broadway star as part of their tour.

Rolling with the changes
The demands of doing business in a city like New York call for innovation and originality, said Mr. Chien, noting that Gray Line New York does not rely on traditional market research. "The city is just that creative. Things change on a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute basis," Mr. Chien said. "You have to be able to be adaptable."

Or at least adapt to sights like the bubbly Ms. Ray and a bright-orange-shirt-wearing Mr. McMahon taking in the town from atop a double-decker.
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