The Specialist Helping Agents Capitalise on the Boom in Rail Holidays

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June 26, 2024
By: Katherine Masters

“We connect the dots for travel agents booking rail”, says Frank Marini, chief executive of Railbookers, which has seen FIT business triple in size since Covid. “There are many reasons driving the trend for rail holidays”, says Frank Marini, noting that their customers are choosing rail for sustainability reasons, because they don’t want to drive, or they simply want an adventure. “We call rail the sleeping giant,” he says.

Railbookers Group has seen spectacular growth in recent years, partly helped by the Covid years, which presented an opportunity because rail networks did not shut down in the same way that the aviation industry did. “Before the pandemic, we had double-digit growth every year for 10 years. Today we are three times the size we were pre-Covid,” Marini adds.

Railbookers Group includes Amtrak Vacations in the US and Railbookers outside the US. The main source markets are the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and the business has staff in six countries and 34 US states. The rail product ranges from luxury tourist trains to intercity services, and the key differentiator for the company is offering flexible independent travel (FIT) holidays, which include hotel bookings, transfers and sightseeing tours alongside train tickets. “We connect the dots for the travel agent,” says Marini. “We can provide instant quotes and a flexible booking window.”

There are multiple benefits for agents in focusing on rail. It’s not a seasonal product and there are no peak booking times so money can be made year-round. “You can book for tomorrow, or you can book for a year ahead,” explains Marini, adding that the FIT nature of the product means there are no fixed departure dates and last-minute bookings can generally be accommodated. Railbookers can also step in whenever there’s disruption:

“When there’s a domino effect with missed connections, that’s where we come in for the travel agent and rearrange everything. We take the anxiety away from travel advisors and customers.”

He says it’s hard to define a typical rail customer. Although the bulk of Railbookers’ clients are fifty-plus, they can be travelling by train for many reasons. They might be opting for a river cruise and rail package; they might want to recreate the interrail experiences of their youth on a different level; or take a “leisure” trip involving rail, which is becoming more common. “Rail means something different to every person,” says Marini. “We don’t get a lot of train buffs, but we do get a lot of travellers.”

Anna Davies, partnership marketing director for Railbookers in the UK, agrees: “Rail can be anything anybody wants it to be. There’s so much flexibility in the product, it lends itself naturally to different parts of the market.” Not sure where to start if your client is open to rail but doesn’t have a fixed route in mind and the possibilities feel endless? “Maps are great collateral,” advises Davies. “Show the customer the European rail network as a starting point.”

Andean Explorer Train in Peru, South America

Railbookers has a steady stream of new product launches, and these are often inspired by real-time booking trends. Recent long-haul expansion has included tours in Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand, and Southeast Asia is the next area of focus. Closer to home, there’s a new selection of Italian itineraries incorporating the La Dolce Vita Orient Express train launching in April 2025.

While the FIT nature of the product makes it difficult to showcase in a fam trip, Railbookers is keen for agents to experience the allure of a rail holiday and offers a 20% discount for personalised fam trips. “We’ll offer 20% for the agent and three additional passengers travelling with them, anywhere you choose,” says Davies.

Above all, the company is keen to cement its reputation as the rail holiday experts. “Ticketing agents won’t tell you how to get to the station, where to stay, what to see,” says Marini. “Call us to ask where to sit on the train for the best views. Our staff are trained on it. We can take the pressure off agents because we speak train.” When customers are keen to experience rail further afield, Marini suggests agents kickstart a consultation with Railbookers’ lighthouse product, an 80-day Round the World by Luxury Train itinerary, featuring four continents and 10 countries. “It’s a bucket list trip and we do make bookings for it,” he explains. “But it also helps draw attention to everything we else sell.”

ABOUT RAILBOOKERS

Railbookers is The Train Specialist — a rail tour operator who manages all land-based elements of a holiday. It offers an ever-expanding portfolio of trips to inspiring, sought-after destinations across ​ the UK, Europe, North America and beyond. Travellers can select one of Railbookers’ existing, expertly-planned, independent holidays or have a knowledgeable Rail Expert build a customised trip for them. Railbookers takes the complexity out of independent rail travel and offer unparalleled service and incredible travel experiences for the very best value. For more information, visit www.railbookers.co.uk.

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