By Francesca Benati, Amadeus Senior VP Online Travel Channels, Western Europe, Middle East and Africa
Planes, Trains and Automobiles. That’s not just the title of the 1987 comedy starring mismatched travel buddies Steve Martin and John Candy. It also describes how people travel, especially when you take into account the journey from door to door. Yet some online travel agents are missing out by failing to consider itineraries that combine different forms of transport such as Air and Rail.
According to research by the Journal of Advanced Transportation, high speed rail really comes into its own on short-haul journeys of 1000 kilometres (or 621 miles). That would include routes such as Beijing to Shanghai, Tokyo to Osaka, Rome to Milan, London to Paris and New York to Washington. High speed is defined as trains travelling faster than 250 kilometres per hour (or 155 miles per hour). Already more than 1.6 billion passengers choose to travel using high-speed rail journeys as part of their overall itinerary. So there is definitely an appetite for what is technically called multimodal travel, which simply means travel that combines various forms of transport in a single journey.
Enhancing the customer experience
As I see it, the two key opportunities for OTAs today are: (1) Differentiation beyond price and (2) Enhancing the customer experience.
Great customer experience is key to gaining repeat business. So what do you get when proposing rail in addition to flights? Let me tell you about my own experience. I flew to Madrid for some meetings and then took a high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona. I was able to join the train less than 30 minutes before departure. Leaving from the city’s central train station was not only convenient, it enabled me to see some of the beauty of Madrid because the station is just a short walk from the famous El Retiro Park. On board the train I was able to use Wi-Fi (so no worries about eating into my 4G data allowance), as well as enjoy a meal in comfortable surroundings.
Differentiating beyond price
How does a travel seller stand out in a crowded marketplace? It isn’t enough to focus on price alone. That’s too easy a battleground for competitors. Thinking beyond air and in terms of Dynamic Packaging is one way to make a difference. Let’s not forget that Rail journeys can also help open the world of secondary destinations to travellers who want to avoid the overtourism of Europe’s most famous sites.
With many travellers looking for more authentic experiences, there is an appetite to reach secondary leisure destinations, those that can be reached by combining Air and Rail. In Italy alone there are some 20 key secondary destinations such as Palermo, Catania and Puglia, all accessible by rail. With a little creativity, an OTA could easily create a memorable itinerary that offers 5 days in Positano via Naples or Rome by combining flights with regional intercity rail.
Overcoming roadblocks to success
If it is so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? Rail fares can be cheaper than air fares, so some OTAs have been put off by what they see as lower potential yield. There is also the cost and complexity of connecting to the many high-speed rail operators, which can be prohibitive. That’s where you need a content aggregator that can provide a single connection to a world of railway operators. At Amadeus we’re taking the challenge and opportunities of multimodal travel seriously. We have solutions available today and we’re also working on technology to allow virtual interlining between flights and railways in the future.
So if you are interested in delivering an excellent travel experience, greater choice for your customers and a more differentiated offer, why not look to combine planes, trains and automobiles in your online trip planning, booking and traveller recommendations?
 Source: UIC 2015 High Speed Train Statistics. Including all trains considered high speed and above 250km/h