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After a record-breaking year in 2016 for Yankee Leisure Group (YLG) — which manages the Yankee Holidays, Amtrak Vacations, Railbookers and Unique Rail Journeys brands — president Frank Marini feels optimistic about the future of train travel.
And he should: More than 32 million consumers traveled on Amtrak in 2016. If the brand was a U.S. airline, it would be the sixth largest. What’s more, Marini reports that 63 percent of Amtrak’s customers are new clients, which he believes shows the demand for domestic travel.
Now, YLG has launched 25 new Amtrak itineraries for 2017, and Marini predicts double-digit growth for domestic and rail travel in the coming year. We sat down with him to learn more about YLG’s products, new U.S. travel trends and what advisors can expect to see from the company this year.
At the 2016 Ensemble Travel Group conference, it was mentioned that last year was the best in the company’s history. What did well in 2016, and why?The softening of European travel has contributed to our growth, but over the past four years, domestic travel has also grown tremendously. The U.S. national parks continue to have more demand, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon.
You have said that rail travel provides the consumer with an experience not available on other types of tours. What elements do you believe define this new experience?Travelers are looking for a different experience from cruises and amusement parks. It’s something new, fresh, unexpected and fun instead of what you already know or maybe don’t look forward to on a vacation, such as the transportation element. From the time a customer gets onboard, the train is no longer looked at in that way. You see parts of America that can only be seen by train, versus seeing the same clouds when you’re flying on an airplane. I have traveled to so many great places in the world, yet I am amazed when I visit sites here in the U.S. and Canada.
Concerns about traveling abroad increased this past year due to world events, and many tour operators are noticing the effects on their businesses. How have these events affected YLG?Concerns over world events are definitely affecting the travel industry. Because our core business is North American travel, we have seen the opposite effect at YLG. More customers are interested in seeing their own backyard.
What’s the biggest misconception about domestic leisure travel? How is YLG addressing this?I think the biggest misconception about domestic leisure travel in the past was that it was not as popular or that agents couldn’t earn commission. This is not the case at all. Not only is domestic travel growing at a record pace, but at YLG, we also pay commission on all vacation components, including the rail portion of the vacation. Domestic travel and rail travel are growing at a high rate, and I don’t see that changing.
What advice do you have for travel agents to best sell your products?All of our itineraries can be customized and adjusted to a customer’s needs. If you have not sold our product yet, join one of our twice monthly webinar trainings to learn more, or reach out to any member of our sales team. If you have sold our products, make sure to also keep up with our email newsletter, where we feature our best-selling products or what is trending for destinations.