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The Future of Rail Travel

August 13, 2020 Rail No Comments Email Email

There is no question about it: travel in 2020-2021 is going to be different than anyone could have ever imagined because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Yet that does not mean that travel must come to a full stop – rather, travelers are adjusting the very nature of what a vacation can be, and DMO’s are answering the call.

Vacations By Rail, the world’s leading train tour operator, is no exception and adapting to changing times. At The New Travel Conference, a virtual event staged this summer, Vacations By Rail was a featured exhibitor. Vacations By Rail President Heather Leisman and Vacations By Rail co-founder Todd Powell shared many insights into how rail travel specifically is changing and is yet to change amidst the post-COVID-19 world.

Prior to the pandemic, rail travel experienced substantial growth, particularly in the last 15 years. Recognized as the eco-friendly alternative to air or car travel and an immersive travel experience through stunning scenery, traveling by train has gone through a Renaissance in recent years as travelers flock to board trains more than ever before.

Heather and Todd outlined key changes, projected trends and opportunities for travelers post-COVID-19, all of which Vacations By Rail is promoting with their various rail partners.


The rail industry is taking on new measures like every other aspect of consumer facing businesses to ensure safety and cleanliness aboard the train cars. While seating will be sterilized between passengers, with seating spaced out to allow social distancing, there has been an increase in demand for private cabins, which have fortunately always been available on many trains. Concessions will still be available on board, though eating will have to occur from passengers’ seats rather then the dining car. The pandemic will see a rise of cashless transactions, utilizing no-touch ticket technology, a change which will likely remain after COVID-19 has subsided.

Small Group Experiences
Vacations By Rail is limiting 2021 tours to run at 62% capacity, while Europe trips will have a maximum of 25 travelers permitted. But the pent-up demand from travelers has resulted in increased advanced bookings for Fall 2020 and 2021. These trips are mostly in US National Parks and the Canadian Rockies, more accessible consumers than last year’s most popular destinations: Alaska and Scandinavia, both of which require a long-haul flight.

What’s New in North America

Given the ongoing international travel concerns, domestic tourism is taking a rise in the United States. Trips to the United States national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone remain Vacations By Rail’s most popular destinations. New tours in further-reaching, more remote domestic markets such as Colorado and Alaska have also been developed for 2021 travel packages.

New Leading Destinations

With remote travel and nature-oriented trips trending in the wake of the pandemic, off-the-beaten path trips have quickly become the most intriguing for travelers. Whether taking a trip to Arctic Sweden to take in the impressive cascading glaciers, or taking a tour of America’s Southwest deserts, Vacations By Rail remains committed to offering travelers these remote experiences that offer unique perspectives on under-visited destinations. Countries seen as resilient to COVID-19 such as Ireland and Japan have also seen increased interest for 2021 bookings, as travelers can go with confidence that they will be in a safe destination.

So, while traveling is not going to be what was expected in the near future, amazing experiences can still be had as tour operators like Vacations By Rail are chugging on to create unforgettable train trips.

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