With France introducing domestic flight bans where there’s a rail alternative, and major European airlines like Air France, KLM and Lufthansa supporting the shift, what does this mean for the wider travel industry? How can travel sellers and B2B distributors support and tap into this important climate initiative? We speak to experts from across the travel value chain to find out.
There’s a business opportunity for airlines in the rail boom says Alice Ferrari, from aviation technology provider Kyte: “The shift to rail doesn’t mean airlines need to lose out,” she tells us. “Airlines like KLM have already figured out that there’s a business opportunity for forward-thinking carriers. Airlines should look at intermodality – offering multiple forms of transport for the traveller’s total journey – offering people public transport options for part or all of their routes. Airlines should also look to partner with the rail companies, to buy and sell rail seats, and simply consider this another ancillary revenue. As intermodal transport becomes increasingly important for consumers, travel companies, including airlines and rail carriers need to be equipped for plug and play with multiple travel apps and itinerary planning tools”
However, there are several practical barriers in the shift to rail. Spencer Hanlon from global real-time payments platform Nium comments that “many booking systems and third parties are not properly set up to manage the B2B payment with rail providers automatically, or even at all. Add the complexity of rail ticket booking, many different providers and schedules, not to mention the potential for cancelations or rebookings, and the industry may not be ready to take rail bookings en masse right now – we need to work together to solve these challenges fast to tap into the growing demand for rail.”
Emilie Dumont, Managing Director at Digitrips, the owner of leading French multi-product travel platform MisterFly, sees rail continuing to gain over air on short-haul routes: “I truly believe that rail is and will continue to develop as an alternative to air for any route that can be covered in less than four hours by train. The improvement of high-speed trains will also help in the coming years. Train is convenient – stations are inside cities, there are no security queues, and travellers can arrive at the station as little as ten minutes before departure, enjoying comfort and wifi when onboard. The main issue I see is carbon calculations – the methodology used is a little behind air… However, I see this improving. We also plan to enhance our rail offering in 2024, providing our B2B clients with train-inclusive travel solutions.”
As a final thought, Andres Fabris of Traxo, the world’s only provider of real-time corporate travel data capture, identifies a significant obstacle stemming from the process of reserving train tickets. Fabris observes, “The complicated nature of rail bookings, combined with insufficient options in standard corporate booking systems or via Travel Management Companies (TMCs), leads many business travelers to bypass official booking channels. This challenge not only creates a visibility gap for travel managers responsible for duty of care, but also discourages the promotion of rail travel—despite its substantial benefits for reducing the company’s carbon footprint. Capture technology like ours, capable of capturing rail bookings regardless of where they are booked, becomes crucial for motivating corporations to embrace train travel.”