Why Americans Are Looking for Rail Travel in Germany and Italy

Traveling by rail through Europe has been a rite of passage for as long as there have been trains in Europe, but over the past several years, the stereotype of college students with backpacks has given way to families and couples looking for authentic, local experiences and a closer connection with each destination.

Looking to appeal to the needs of a new generation of travelers, Rail Europe is offering new e-ticketing options for train tickets in Italy and Germany. We touched base with Rail Europe CEO Frederic Langlois to see how rail travel was changing throughout the countries.

Italy, Langlois said, is seeing a significant increase in interest for train travel, to the tune of a 52 percent rise. He credits this boost to improved options and supply, including the launch of NTV’s Italo line two years ago. “It helped us to raise awareness and sell more tickets,” he said, “because now people want to experience this stylish train.” Rail Europe’s trade partners are trying to capitalize on this interest by combining both Trenitalia and Italo into their itineraries. “If you travel within Italy, you’ll ride one of these trains,” he predicted. Another benefit of Italo’s growing popularity is improved service and quality from Trenitalia. “The competition helped,” Langlois said. “The onboard product is better, and the staff is better. Both have improved.” 

Kier Matthews, vice president of travel industry sales for Europe Express, said that the tour operator’s sales of rail tickets in Italy are up 37 percent over last year. Travel to Italy, Matthews continued, is perennial. “So many Americans are in love with Italy,” he continued. “It’s like a fantasyland...It just seems romantic.”

Germany, meanwhile, has also seen an increase in interest--Langlois estimates it to be around 12 percent (“I’ll take it!”)--perhaps because Rail Europe offers not only long-haul train fares but also local tickets, so visitors can travel like locals. Europe Express’ sales to Germany are up 14 percent, Matthews said, which he credits not only to the country’s famously stable economy, but to a growing hospitality and culinary scene. “Five years ago, you wouldn’t associate Germany with the great food capitals like Paris and Rome,” he said. “Germany is seeing an amazing renaissance in that area.” 

E-tickets have also improved sales, Langlois said. The appeal of e-tickets comes not only from convenience (“Paper doesn’t exist anymore,” he said), but from the increase in shorter booking windows. “We have more people who shop last minute--three days, four days, one week before leaving...If we have to mail a paper product, you never know what can happen. They may not get their documents. So e-tickets are very convenient.” 

In terms of ticket types, Langlois said that the changing demographic has changed purchase patterns. For decades, college kids bought passes and spent weeks or months hopping Europe’s rails and seeing multiple countries. “Things have changed,” Langlois said. “Now it’s baby boomers who are only visiting for 12 days. They know where they want to go. They’ve prepared their trips in advance. Now they want to purchase point-to-point tickets.” While passes are still very useful in certain countries, especially Germany and Switzerland (the Swiss Pass offers access to a wide range of public transportation and attractions), countries like Italy, France and Spain now require passengers with passes to purchase reservations. “It’s not as appealing as it once was,” Langlois said. While passes used to be 95 percent of Rail Europe’s business, he added, they are now down to about 25 percent.

Europe Express has also seen a decrease in pass sales, and Matthews sees a similar reason for the shift. “More affluent travelers are buying tickets,” he said, and that demographic wants “something organized and planned. They want to know they can get on the train at midday Tuesday and they want a guaranteed spot and seat.”  

Rail Europe is offering deals for Italy’s Trenitalia and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn trains: Those purchasing a Trenitalia ticket by April 10 will get 25 percent off all Italian activity products including sightseeing tours, Venetian gondola rides, museum experiences and more. Visit: www.raileurope.com/en/activities/italy/none and use coupon SEEITALY at checkout. For Germany, they can get 20 percent off of first class domestic train tickets on Deutsche Bahn when they book by April 17. Prices begin at $48 for first class German train tickets. Visit  www.raileurope.com/european-trains/deutsche-bahn/index.html and use coupon MOREGERMANY at checkout.