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Era of rich last-minute bookings dawns for agents

August 31, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Wholesalers have noted a behavioural shift in the Australian market to last-minute bookings, sometimes very lucrative, with Rail Plus commercial director Ingrid Kocijan commenting on the trend and confirming that it doesn’t just apply to rail, but across the board.

Kirsten Hills, KiwiRail; Karen Conlon, Belmond; Ryan O’Connell, Rocky Mountaineer; Ingrid Kocijan, Rail Plus; Bianca Sargent, Great Southern Rail; Renee Cornelissen, Great Southern Rail; Kaver Ali Khan, Indian luxury trains; and Ray Lane, VIA Rail.

“Rail has always been a last-minute product,” Kocijan said, “but in discussions I’ve had with other wholesalers, the market has very much moved to last-minute bookings and then it just goes crazy.”

Kocijan said just last week Rail Plus was seeing AUD 40,000 Rocky Mountaineer bookings placed for the season that ends in two weeks time. “And it’s not just us. It seems to be a trend in the market now. I think it’s the airfares as well. People are just deciding on the spot: ‘Yep, good deal, I’m going to go’.”

Kocijan said people in many cases were deciding that they didn’t really need an earlybird fare “because the fares are good anyway” so they just waited till they felt like going – and then they booked. In some cases it reflects pent-up demand, with travellers who held back earlier over terrorism fears becoming more pragmatic.

Mark Wettstein, Switzerland Tourism Director Australia and New Zealand at Great Train Journeys Showcase

This is proving very fortuitous for agents, because agents are the way a lot of upmarket travellers prefer to book.

Kocijan made her comments in Sydney at the Great Train Journeys Showcase. It attracted about 100 agents in Sydney and about 80 in Auckland and Brisbane, then moved to Melbourne last night. The agents are specially selected to ensure quality.

VisitBritain commercial manager, Mark Haynes at Great Train Journeys Showcase

“We launched it as an educational event and we have received great feedback,” Kocijan said. “It will be an annual event and we hope this will be the first of many to come.”

Great train journeys are being increasingly compared to a “cruise on rails”. Kocijan points out that it enjoys many of the advantages associated with cruise travel, “for instance only packing once, receiving full itineraries, enjoying off-train excursions”. On some journeys travellers sleep in hotels but on others they sleep aboard the trains. It generates a familiarity similar to cruising.

Learning about Great Train Journeys

On other points, Kocijan said:

  • Train travel attracts people who just want to do something different on their holiday – and that’s why they go to a travel agent. Like cruising, train travel can attract a very upmarket and free-spending clientele.
  • For agents, a higher-value product translates into higher commissions.
  • Rocky Mountaineer is still very popular and achieving well beyond double-digit growth year-upon-year across the board.
  • Growth averaged 20% but to some destinations, such as Spansh luxury train travel, like El Transcantabrico, growth is far higher, hitting 50%.
  • The UK, Spain, Italy and Germany are seeing the fastest growth. Likewise, private train journeys to destinations like Russia, Central Asia, the Silk Road and India, some really out-of-the-way destinations and luxurious rail journeys, are doing really well.
  • “There are seven consultants in our team, five in Australia and two in New Zealand; that’s the largest we’ve ever had. We concentrate on promoting the product to our staff first-hand. We recently launched Platinum Great Train Journeys division with two agents.”
  • “We are seeing a big shift, where people are not just doing one Great Train Journey, they are doing one and then next year they want to do another. That’s a huge opportunity.”
  • “Every showcase we have given away a flight to Europe with our partner Emirates. We want train journeys to be top of mind with agents when a client wants something a bit different.”

Written by Peter Needham

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