RailAgent.com Revamps

Though RailAgent.com says more than 10,000 travel agencies in the United States use its site, the company is also aware that agents don't book rail that often. "Rail, unfortunately, isn't something agents sell on a day-to-day basis, so anything we can do to make it easier, we will do," says Charles de Gaspe Beaubien, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. And so, RailAgent.com late last month unveiled a complete redesign of its web site, making it easier to use with enhanced content, trip-planning tools, detailed commission reporting and interactive country and route maps. Further improvements will debut through the summer. Agents can now book itineraries on the Eurostar and Via Rail Canada at the new site

New Tutorials, Maps

RailAgent.com's new site employs many elements of Web 2.0, a technology term used to describe web site features that encourage user interaction. This week, for example, RailAgent's web site will introduce online booking tutorials with voiceovers, as well as maps for its European routes that allow agents to book tickets directly from them.

"This is a 100 percent redesign," de Gaspe Beaubien says. "Now there are a lot more content images and better browser compatibility. The whole project has been about a year in the making."

De Gaspe Beaubien says the new web site always is a work in progress, as one of the new additions to the site is a "Contact Us" form where agents can choose a subject and ask a question or give feedback. "It gives me a feel of what agents are struggling with and what they're enjoying," he says.

In fact, the addition of this feature showed its usefulness within the first few days of its debut. At the request of users, in its first week RailAgent.com altered the navigation on the left-hand side of the site and changed the registration process. "We found the original registration process was confusing mostly for IATA agents, because their profiles are pre-loaded," de Gaspe Beaubien says. "The registration now asks for an e-mail and password to track bookings at the agency level, not at the agent level. It adds a level of security."

Itinerary Tool, More Products

Other features include a rail-planning tool that helps agents recommend the best combination of rail tickets and passes, which are based on either a specific itinerary or a desired route. In addition to its existing Amtrak, Britrail, Eurail and Japan Rail inventory, RailAgent.com also now has access to such global rail products as Eurostar, Spanish Rail, Rail Australia and Via Rail Canada.

"One of the biggest things we added was the ability to show rail connections," de Gaspe Beaubien says. "Passes are important, but agents also want the most rail connectivity." The rail-planning tool comes back with live inventory. "What we did this year on the back end is get more connections directly with the railroad, so agents have access to the best prices," he adds.

The site offers agent commissions; rates vary based on the product booked. Agents can click on the "My Commissions" portion of the site to see the rates on the web site's inventory. Commissions also vary based on agreements with different consortia.