Significant technology boosts have propelled agent and traveler bookings on Rail Europe’s Internet site to double-digit growth over the past two years, and company officials expect a continued surge this year.
Since early 2005 when the company launched a platform that taps directly into its parent company French National Railroads’ live inventory and pricing, bookings have risen as much as 30 percent over previous periods, officials estimate.
As the official distributor in North America of Eurail passes and tickets as well as the France Rail Pass, BritRail Pass, Swiss Rail Pass, Eurostar Tickets, Trenitalia Tickets, SNCF Tickets and DeutscheBahn Tickets the platform now offers the majority of its pricing and inventory live, according to Oakland, Calif.-based Jim Prchlik, business development manager for the Northwest Region, Rail Europe.
“It used to be we were given an annual price that didn’t fluctuate. That was convenient & but customers got more savvy, and they saw the discounts on 14-day advance,” he said. “Now in many cases we can offer the discounts, the promotions and different things that are available & not lock in the client, but incentivize the client to purchase in advance. That was a huge step.”
Rail Europe also now sells an expanded range of “market-priced” fares on French trains, with savings of as much as 45 percent over previous fares, and offers market-priced fares on Italian trains at savings of as much as 35 percent over previous fares.
“Above and beyond just the access to live inventory and access to pricing are the dramatic benefits that go along with the site,” Prchlik said. “It gives the agent the ability to clearly explain to clients what this product involves. They can also print it out or save it as an e-mail to send to clients.”
Prchlik estimates about two-thirds of Rail Europe’s bookings now are through its Internet site and direct booking and ticketing system that is in use at about 300 agencies nationwide.
The site offers interactive maps of routes and thousands of cities. And new this year, agents can customize downloadable Rail Europe brochures with their agency logo, name and address to mail or e-mail clients.
Reaching out to agents even further, Rail Europe offers one-hour, live online classes to teach agents about the site every Tuesday and Thursday mornings and afternoons.
“Agents don’t have the time to explore every site they use, so this offers them a good overview for what Rail Europe’s site can do for them,” Prchlik said.
Other agent training includes a Rail Agent Course originally developed with Travel Agent University that is the only European rail certification course for travel agents and can be accessed 24/7.
The firm is offering new single-country passes for Ireland and Croatia this year and continues to offer agents online booking commissions ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent. Rail Europe’s opaque billing system also offers agents the ability to add on a service fee that is not broken down in client billing. Ultimately, officials say they believe the boosted technology and training will translate into continued sales increases and broader recognition of European rail travel.
“The North American market is not that widely aware of the ease that rail travel offers,” Prchlik said. “[Consumers are] not aware of the efficiency, speed, convenience &[but they are] aware of professionalism and an agent that has a breadth of knowledge on rail in Europe.”
Rail Europe Agents can set up a password-protected account by registering using an IATA number.
New for this year:
On June 11, the high-speed TGV Est is set to open, an extension to the French high-speed TGV network. With completion of the Vaires-sur-Marne and Baudrecourt link, Strasbourg and about 20 other major towns and cities in eastern France will be connected to the network. Paris will be just 2 hours and 15 minutes from Strasbourg with 25 services a day in each direction.
In November, the final portion of the trans-channel rail link is set to open connecting the outskirts of London under the Thames and ending on the north side of London. The link will deliver clients close to key Tube lines such as Kings Cross and about a mile and a half from Paddington Station where the Heathrow Express comes in.