Bus companies in France : liberalization and digital strategy

The bus travel market has developed in France since the passage of the Macron law in August, 2015. So, who are the new players, and what are their digital strategies?

The market for long-distance bus travel was opened to competition during the promulgation of the “Macron” law of 6 August 2015. Since then, many French and foreign companies have begun to open routes in France, thereby creating competition with the French train company SNCF as well as the carpooling service Blablacar. Let’s review how liberalization has impacted competition, market share, and the evolving digital strategies of bus companies in France.

Market liberalization

Some key numbers

  • 1.5 million Passengers
  • 734 city pairs
  • 5 key market players
  • Average Price – € 12
  • Main cities: Paris, Lille, Lyon, Toulouse
  • 1,300 jobs created

The Five Players:

  • Megabus (GB, subsidiary of Stagecoach)
  • Flixbus (Germany, known as “Uber” of the bus)
  • Ouibus (SNCF, former iDBUS)
  • Starshipper (collective French SMEs)
  • Isilines (subsidiary of Eurolines, Transdev / Veolia)

Bus Network France

Their network

The top 5 players, in terms of cities served, are Isilines and Flixbus who each serve 35% of the cities as well as 30% of all French and other foreign destinations, although sometimes these are in partnership with Alsa and Eurolines. Next are Ouibus and StarShipper who each claim 10% of cities, and finally Megabus, with 8% of cities.

Schedules and rates

In terms of price, Megabus offers a “low cost”, very aggressive fare from € 1. For schedules, Megabus, Ouibus and Flixbus are neck and neck. It is interesting to note that the fare for Paris – Lyon is 15 € for all carriers, except Megabus.

Paris Lille on 12/04/2016 ( infos from 26/03)
Bus per day Cheapest fare Highest fare
Megabus 8 1 € 5 €
Ouibus 13 5 € 9 €
Isilines 4 9 € 9 €
Flixbus 8 9 € 13 €
Paris Lyon on 12/04/2016 ( infos from 26/03)
Bus per day Cheapest fare Highest fare
Megabus 8 1 € 5 €
Ouibus 8 15 € 15 €
Isilines 5 15 € 15 €
Flixbus 13 15 € 54 €

Growth prospects

With an average occupancy rate of only 32%, the market is currently being adjusted. Many companies are positioning themselves with the hope of taking market share rapidly. Some lines are already reaching a full capacity (Angers, Lille, and Lyon).

However, the market could undergo a process of concentration as it was seen in Germany after their market opened in January, 2013. One company who stood out after 2 years was MeinFernBus (a start-up that merged with Flixbus) which now has a 67% market share with 2.7 million passengers.

The French Government has contracted the Arafer Company to monitor the new market.

Brand awareness and Digital strategy

Awareness of the various Providers

We can estimate brand awareness by the monthly queries keyed into Google. In the bus market, the brand that dominates is Ouibus at 246K. As for newer entrants, Megabus, at 110K, appears to have an edge over Flixbus, 90k, while Isiline and Starshipper remain slightly behind.

bus companies awareness france

Popularity of different destinations

A glance at keywords confirms the popularity of lines such as Lille -Paris, Lyon Paris and Toulouse Paris. Could this be a result of lower purchasing power for people living on the other end? Whatever the reason, bus companies would do well to communicate with these population centers.

Keyword Avg. Monthly Searches
Bus Lille Paris 2400
Bus Lyon Paris 1900
Bus Toulouse Paris 1900
Bus Paris Lyon 1600
Bus Paris Toulouse 1600
Bus Bordeaux Paris 1600
Bus Paris Lille 1600
Bus Rennes Paris 1300
Bus Nantes Paris 1300
Bus Paris Bordeaux 1300
Bus Paris Nantes 1000

PR impact analysis and Facebook Fans

The company with the highest online visibility is Flixbus, with over 100 articles found on Google News.

google news articles bus digital strategy france

In terms of Facebook fans page, Ouibus is ahead of its competitors. Flixbus data represents the entire network (no Facebook page specific to France).

facebook pages buses digital strategy

Benchmarking SEO

In terms of SEO visibility, Megabus appears to be the leader of organic traffic but, the keywords that the site is ranking for are not very suitable for the French market. The site doesn’t rank on any French cities, only on generic expressions like ” Europe Bus”, or english words / cities.

SEO strategy analysis bus france

Ouibus, which has to deal with different brands (it used to be called iDBUS, also  known as SNCF bus), positions itself well in SEO by using relevant expressions that must result in qualified traffic. The losers are Isilines, which must still receive web traffic from the Eurolines site, and Flixbus, which has only 11 keywords identified by Google and results in very little organic traffic. Result: due to poor SEO, these companies are spending more on Adwords.

Ouibus is ahead in market awareness, social networks and SEO compared to its competitors, while Flixbus seems to maintain effective PR.

But bus comparator engines are very active in SEO. They must represent a significant source of traffic for bus operators. These comparator search engines will probably be the focus of an upcoming article.

“Before, I was taking carpools, but that made my knees hurt, there was less space. And now the bus is even cheaper. “

So, what do you think of the modern bus travel market? Have you seen communication campaigns for these operators (online or offline)? Please let us know!

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