Catching Up With Rail Europe

Travel Agent recently met with the President and CEO of Rail Europe, Frederic Langlois, who told us that last year was the company's best ever.

"High-speed trains have changed the business," he said. Travelers to Europe can now stay in any city with a train station and commute easily to major tourist attractions—or other cities—for day trips. For example, visitors to Italy can get a hotel in Bologna and then take the Frecciarossa (pictured) to Florence or Milan, or stay in London and visit Paris through a ride on the Chunnel. "It's selling an experience," Langlois continued. "You can't do this in the U.S."

Italy, in particular, is boosting its rail network, with a new private railroad to compete with Trenitalia launching this month. NTV is owned by the same people who own Ferrari and Tod shoes, and its new Italo trains will offer a high-end alternative to the national network. (Full-length movies will be shown on longer trips in a dedicated cinema car, meals will be served at-seat in the first- and second-class seats, etc.) In response, Trenitalia is improving its own product, adding new food and wine options to its trains. (We hear the Italo trains will have a top VIP lounge at stations--can't wait to hear what's inside!) Rail Europe will sell both the national and private trains as of this month.

To promote their product to travel agents, who make up a solid 50 percent of the company's business, Rail Europe is offering a 60 percent commission on train trips within Great Britain. (Book it quick-it's only good until they sell out.) In Switzerland, the company is offering a two-for-one deal on the SwissPass, which allows free access to just about every mode of public transportation in the country as well as several hundred museums and cultural attractions. While the passes are printed on paper (so that they can be shown upon boarding), most point-to-point tickets are now electronic, making it easier to keep track of an itinerary.

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