There’s something special about a rail journey that captures the imagination ..the stuff of indulgent novels and wistful gazing. It recalls travellers of old, true pioneers breaking new ground with elegant explorations by rail. Those epic voyages still appeal strongly to modern travellers. They’re drawn to the idea of adventures filled with unique perspectives off the beaten track, so to speak, rocked by a soothing clickety-clack to dream-drenched sleep.
What makes train travel a cool way to go
Unique is super trendy. You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes each time a client asked for a completely different and unique experience. Thank the gods of locomotion for the option to experience activities and destinations in different ways, inaccessible to other modes of transport.
It offers variety in picture-friendly panoramic vistas, similar to road tripping experiences but exceeding their reach and speed. It presents the familiar destination with a twist; an easy, relaxing way to cover great distances, to see and visit a new destination in a novel way, or experience particular interests in multiple locations. Relevant to solo travellers, families and couples of all age groups, train travel offers adventures on varying budgets from basic to old world opulence, a bespoke experience on rails.
The winding course of the tracks promises awe-inspiring sites and exciting experiences with a hint of charm and romance.
A throwback to a time when train journeys featured prominently in tourism, it epitomises luxury, class, prestige, and now, nostalgia for that golden era of travel.
Train travel invites travellers on a personal voyage of discovery, to enjoy the flexibility and independence of mobile accommodation, ensconced in the luxuries of modern convenience, technology and service.
What matters is the journey, not the destination.
Modern twist on the romance of rail
I love old travel posters – they tell such vivid stories about the state of tourism in bygone years. Words like ‘privilege’, ‘luxury’, ‘history’, ‘exploration’, ‘epic’, come to mind.. Train travel borrows from that old world appeal, updated now with modern amenities.
Onboard services, amenities and furnishings define the ambience and character of the experience. Luxury can be found in opportunities to relax, in comfort, leisure, a sense of exclusivity, having time to kill or simply to do everything slowly. Passengers enjoy lavish meals over a few hours, conversations over cocktails, reading until they nod off, taking photographs, even just staring. WIFI connects them with the outside world when needed. Well-appointed sleeping quarters and meals with a touch of class add to the luxury experience. It’s all the creature comforts of resort living on rails (minus a swimming pool but you can’t have everything), polished to perfection by elevated service standards – what more could one wish for?
The design of a train is a treat in itself. Vintage trains refurbished with modern fittings and features have strong appeal. Modern surround-windows and glass ceilings improve the viewing experience. There are styles of travel to suit many tastes.
Growing interest in trains and the niches in between
There was a time when trains represented a faster mode of transport between 2 distant points (if flight wasn’t an option). The deal with rail travel now is that it efficiently covers large distances yet also adheres to the principles of slow tourism. Passengers welcome the time to reflect, do things at their own pace, and bond with travel companions over immersive experiences on-board and en route.
A recent Booking.com survey found that 25% of travellers planned trips based on a journey rather than destination.
The idea of an epic journey and self-discovery are major motivations for Generation Z travellers to consider the train. A broader emerging trend is the preference for easier, passive sightseeing opportunities. Couples want unique romantic getaways without having to plan, navigate or do much more than relax together.
All prefer relaxing holidays – especially Millennials & Generation X
More experienced travellers and a segment of the luxury market lead the charge for unique experiences. This presents opportunities on the high-end scale for partnerships with luxury lifestyle brands to market exclusive themed experiences. The Ghan partnership with Australian brands Bollinger and Akubra is a recent example. Cultural immersions can happen on-board just the same as off: The Presidential, for example, offers a unique Portuguese food and wine experience, a concept easily replicated and tweaked according to interest. Travellers with a penchant for natural beauty want fields of tulips or lavender, views from hard-to-reach vantage points, stops at quaint train stations, coincidental to in-destination festivals. Travel brands can have great fun tailoring experiences around the train journey.
Train companies and rail operators have been paying attention to the demand for bespoke experiences, special interests and the need for niche. Pop culture gave birth to the Harry Potter Express and the glamorous, dramatic 2017 movie, Murder on the Orient Express, renewed interest in the rail journey with its powerful cocktail of imagery and intrigue. History combines romance and education, like Great Rail Journeys experiences do. Informative content is key here: apart from enabling better choices, in-depth, storytelling content also permits travellers to relax even prior to travel, knowing that the research has all been done for them. Argentina’s End of the World Train follows an historic convict route through Patagonia, for example, and sounds legendary. For those routes with their own histories, legends and iconic status, accessible content becomes part of the luxury service.
Modular travellers are making their presence felt with their reluctance to spend loads of time researching and planning. They want well-crafted products to choose from and combine into multi-modal experiences. Train journeys enable novel ways of revisiting familiar destinations, as alternative to air and road or as complement to other modes of travel. Combined with hotel stays pre-departure, along the way or at-destination, travel brands are able to design value-added itineraries. The business prospects are already standing up to be counted.
The global rail market is expected to reach €185B by 2021..
This spells good news in the face of overtourism. New infrastructure and growing interest in new routes have enabled (if not forced) destinations and the tourism industry to respond positively, to develop other, new hidden charms to explore/sell. Tunnels, bridges, mountain passes, viaducts each tell stories along the way to round off the journey. One needn’t be an expert or hobbyist to appreciate the beauty in architecture and engineering.
Rovos Rail uses Capital Park in Pretoria as a private station, its iconic colonial style providing an interesting marketing nuance. Old railway stations, refurbished, reinvented, cleaned up, or unique building designs all enrich the aesthetic appeal of the overall experience.
Content that sells the experience of train travel
Showcasing a train journey optimally requires glimpses of its interior and exterior from all angles. Travellers want to see what type of train they’ll be boarding and the decor that will greet them in the sleeping, dining, lounge/bar and viewing compartments.
A virtual tour or video of guests enjoying the type of experiences they’re interested in does the trick, as do details on amenities on offer. According to an Expedia study, an average 48% of polled travellers were influenced by appealing imagery in ads; so don’t skimp on high-resolution pictures. Each destination is a canvas on which to market: whether with coastal views, mountains and valleys, jungles, canyons or plains, pastoral, urban, historical or modern, this is the content that will sell the journey.
Seasonal variations should depict year-round accessibility with white-washed winter scenes, spring cherry blossoms, sparkling summer bays, or the golden, red hues of autumn. Travellers need to know what to experience at any time of year.
Trains are back in vogue & destinations are laying their tracks bare for a luxurious exploration. There’s so much potential for railway and tourism companies to exploit and package to diverse markets. A niche approach to designing and marketing modular products serves discerning travellers with tailored options for their own experience of the golden era of train travel.