TORONTO — Just how comprehensive is Railbookers’ product line?
“If the train goes there, so do we,” says Frank Marini, President & CEO, Railbookers Group.
The grand total is 5,000+ customizable itinerary options, featuring just about every train company, in countries all over the world, from Europe to Canada to the U.S., to Australia, India and more, for every price point.
“It can be a budget trip, or an extremely high-end trip,” says Marini, citing a recent booking for four travellers totaling Cdn$80,000, including India’s Maharajas’ Express and luxury hotels, as an example that’s definitely in the latter category. “We do it all. We can do anything and everything.”
The base product, of course, is rail. Railbookers specializes in FIT train vacations, all tailored to include hotel, transfers, sightseeing and more.
Travel agents bring in about 50% of bookings, at 12% commission, and the company is extremely agent-friendly. All those 5,000+ itineraries are right at a travel agent’s fingertips, and that’s literally true as Railbookers is all about helping travel advisors via telephone. Agents have just about 24/7 access to the Railbookers res line.
The phone-friendly approach is a welcome throwback to the pre-Internet days when a travel agent could get a real live person on the telephone, and not stay on hold for an interminable amount of time.
It works so well for Railbookers, reps in its markets don’t even make in-person sales calls. Everything is done via telephone, with helpful get-to-knows and training available through webinars.
“We started doing webinars 12 years ago – back before webinars were cool,” joked Marini at a lunch event yesterday in Toronto, for travel trade media. “Agents want that support [for rail bookings]. They want to call someone. They don’t want to do it online.”
So many agents are hesitant to book rail for their clients, seeing it as time-consuming at best, and completely confusing at worst. Railbookers is here to help, says Marini. “Many travel agents, when they hear ‘train’, they get scared. We take care of that part for them. Agents hear about Railbookers and what we offer, and they say, I have a client just like that, I researched that for hours, and now I find out I could have just called you.”
He adds that Railbookers is a preferred partner with all of Canada’s major travel retail groups.
Heading up Railbookers’ Canada office – in fact, he is Railbookers’ Canada office – is Cris David. David is well known in the Canadian travel industry from his days with The Travel Corporation (as is Marini, who worked with David at TTC, and also worked for Collette). Now Railbookers Group’s VP Sales, Canada, David been with the company since mid-2019 and is intent on getting Canadian travel advisors ‘all aboard’ with Railbookers’ vast portfolio.
David says agents appreciate Railbookers’ quick turnaround time, with res agents able to send quotes to travel advisors while they’re talking on the phone. “We can quote on the fly. Agents love that.”
And travel agents’ clients love the convenience of rail travel, especially in destinations like Europe, with its enviable rail network and 26,000 train stations across the continent. “You can be having breakfast at your hotel at 7 a.m., and on the train by 8 a.m., and travelling across the country,” says David.
Another perk: Railbookers accepts bookings up to two years in advance, with only a few exceptions. Bookings can also be made pretty much immediately, or anything inbetween. “We’ll have travel advisors, and travellers, call us today, book today and travel today. Or any time in the future, up to two years out,” says Marini.
He says 42% of Railbookers’ bookings in the Canadian market in the past two weeks were for September and October travel in Europe, adding that Canada is one of Railbookers’ fastest growing markets. Best sellers from Canada? Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Scandinavia and of course, our own backyard, Canada.
Why do travellers choose rail? The city-to-city convenience, for one. Avoiding airports whenever possible. Not having to drive or deal with rental cars in an unfamiliar place is a big one. There’s also the sustainability factor. Earlier this year France passed a bill banning short-haul flights where rail alternatives exist. “Train travel is the third most sustainable way to travel, after walking and cycling,” says Marini.
Many of Railbookers’ clients are booking rail components for pre- or post-river cruises. The company is getting so much interest from river cruise clients, Marini says he’s constantly asked about adding river cruises to Railbookers’ portfolio. Not yet, he says, but never say never.
Railbookers’ Canadian website, with prices in Canadian dollars, is railbookers.ca. “No matter what question you have, we have the answer,” says Marini. The company was seeing double-digit growth pre-pandemic, and now “we’ve literally doubled the business since 2019.”
For more on Railbookers, check out Travelweek’s Aug. 2023 Take 5 interview with Cris David here.