Travel agents are showing a lot of interest in rail travel as an ideal post-pandemic travel product, says Amtrak and Railbookers’ Vice President of Sales, Canada, Cris David. In this edition of Take 5, David talks about the advantages of rail travel and how these unique product options can help agents “hang on to 2020 revenue and restore some of their lost commissions.”
1. How is Amtrak / Railbookers holding up during the COVID-19 crisis?
“We are holding up well. All staff members from our five global offices have transitioned well to working from home and all departments are busy, positive and focused on assisting our new and existing customers. Like everyone else, we saw a sharp drop in our bookings in March, but there has been a slow and steady increase in inquiries and new bookings during April and May and we are seeing tremendous interest in rail travel as a go-to alternative for post-coronavirus travel.”
2. How much of Amtrak’s / Railbookers’ network is currently operating, and where?
“In the U.S. and most European countries, passenger trains are considered an essential service. For this reason Amtrak and many of our European rail partners have not fully suspended their operations, although service has been reduced on some routes. Amtrak, for example, is running fewer trains per day on their Northeast Corridor service between Boston and Washington DC as the majority of passengers on this route are business travellers and so demand has dropped substantially due to the Covid-19 shutdown.”
3. Is there any talk about when operations might be getting back to near normal levels?
“It is difficult to predict when things will return completely to normal. Most of the rail companies are up and running on account of their designation as an essential service, so the itineraries we offer for Railbookers and Amtrak Vacations can be booked as soon as the destinations are open to visitors. In Alaska, and many of the U.S. National Parks, facilities and accommodations will be open from July 1. The current policy for Amtrak and some European rail companies is to operate at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing. As things open up, all the rail operators will increase their services and capacity.”
4. Why is Amtrak / Railbookers a good choice for Canadians looking for vacation options in a more sensitized, post-pandemic world?
“Rail travel is an excellent option for Canadians eager to resume their travels as our society, and the world, emerges from lockdown.
“By its nature, rail travel allows for a lot more social distancing than other forms of transportation, as passenger trains provide a very spacious environment on board. In addition, rail operators in Europe and North America will be altering seat configurations and in some cases running at 50% capacity to ensure that minimum social distance guidelines are followed.
“Many of the rail vacation packages we offer include overnight rail journeys, where guests can book private accommodation in sleeping compartments which provide seclusion and further peace of mind for guests who wish to maintain separation from other travellers. Amtrak has recently introduced in-room meal service as well, so guests can enjoy their meals in the privacy of their compartments, without having to venture into the public setting of the dining car.
“Another reason for the tremendous appeal of rail journeys as a post-Covid travel option is that the train can deliver you right to the doorstep of the places you want to go to heal and rejuvenate after the claustrophobia of lockdown – national parks, Swiss mountains, bucket list natural wonders where you can hike, relax and marvel at the breathtaking scenery. Among the most popular destinations for Railbookers and Amtrak Vacations are the Swiss Alps, the U.S. National Parks, the Canadian Rockies and Alaska.
“As we come out of the pandemic there is increased demand for travel domestically within Canada, and to destinations closer to home. As the official vacation partner for VIA Rail, Railbookers offers a range of itineraries allowing Canadian travellers to explore the world-class tourism offerings in our own back yard, from the Canadian Rockies to the Maritimes to Niagara falls and the wonderful cities of the Toronto-Quebec City corridor. The trans-Canadian journey aboard VIA Rail’s ‘Canadian’ train is a wonderful way to see and connect with our own country at eye level and has become a very popular choice for post-coronavirus travel.”
5. How is Amtrak / Railbookers staying in touch with travel agents during this time?
“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic our approach has been to remain in constant contact with our travel agent partners. Our Business Development Executives and our entire top management team have been reaching out personally by phone to front-line agents and consortia partners just to check in, express our solidarity and keep them updated on what we are doing, and what we are seeing locally and in the other sales markets where we operate worldwide.
“There has been a lot of interest from the retail community in rail travel as an ideal post-pandemic product alternative. We have been working very closely with existing and new consortia partners to get the word out to their consultants about our unique product options that can help them hang on to 2020 revenue and restore some of their lost commissions.
“Our company has always had a strong focus on online training, conducting regular agent webinars as a key component of our sales process. During the Covid-19 shutdown, with agents eager to use their newfound time to increase their product knowledge, we have been conducting weekly webinars to update and inform them about trending itineraries, closer to home rail destinations and the policies rail operators are implementing for post-Covid travel.”