TopRail members and ETOA (European Tourism Association) joined forces to present a day’s programme on 18 May to promote rail travel in the context of leisure tourism for European citizens and inbound visitors. The initiative consisted of a one-hour open broadcast event at midday and a training programme in the afternoon.
The online broadcast, held on the YouTube platform between 12:00 and 13:00, was moderated by Tim Fairhurst, Secretary General at ETOA, European Tourism Association AISBL and Carles Casas, Chairman of the UIC TopRail Group, dedicated to rail tourism. Involving a number of TopRail stakeholders across the railway community, the event looked at opportunities for sustainable development and recovery post-pandemic, the creation and distribution of new leisure rail travel products, as well as future challenges for the railways to restore customer confidence and meet the evolving travel demands of society.
An introductory speech was given by István Ujhelyi, MEP and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism at the European Parliament. Mr Ujhelyi highlighted the importance of increasing the role of rail in the future with regard to sustainable travel and tourism. To achieve this, he said we need to strengthen collaboration between the railways and the tourism industry, invest more in the railways, be innovative by developing smart products, respond to the challenges of the customer in this fast-changing sector and have a coherent long-term strategy.
UIC Europe Chairman Francisco Cardoso dos Reis also shared some key messages regarding the areas in which the railways need to improve such as communicating all the benefits of rail – such as environment, space and freedom of movement – in order to restore customer confidence and attract new customers to this mode of transport. He mentioned that improving rail’s commercial offer such as night trains, door-to-services and integrated ticketing were key to improving customer perception. He added that it was important to take the opportunity during this European Year of Rail to link the railways with the Green Deal and promote transport services and respond to the needs of society.
A series of short videos and key messages, sent by a number of TopRail’s European stakeholders, were shared with the audience:
- Eurail (Carlo Boselli, General Manager)
- SNCF (Fabrice Morenon, Managing Director, SNCF Hubs & Connexions – subsidiary of SNCF Group in charge of managing railway stations)
- Trenitalia (Serafino Lopiano, Head of Long Haul Sales)
- ÖBB (Kurt Bauer, Head of Long-Distance Passenger Services and Christoph Hinterleitner, Head of Pricing & Revenue Management)
Three further short promotional videos and key messages were also shared by:
- JR East (presented by Yasunari Nakajima, Senior Fellow, JR East Paris branch)
- SBB (presented by Jörg Ostwald, Head of Product, Services and Events, Passenger Department)
Tim Fairhurst and Carles Casas highlighted a number of issues and started the dialogue on the role of the railways in the following areas:
- Cooperating both within the sector as well as taking a cross-sector approach
- How rail can provide sustainable tourism options
- Restoring customer confidence in collective transport and turning the health crisis into an opportunity to attract new customers to the railway sector
- Meeting the demands of evolving customer behaviour and finding complementarity in leisure demands and the capacity of the railways
- How railways are aligning with the green transition and how to meet the EU targets of carbon neutrality by 2050
The online broadcast was followed in the afternoon by an online Masterclass (travel trade training workshop) for TopRail members. Experts from the leisure tourism industry had the opportunity to share and engage with rail operators on topics including product development and sustainability, planning, distribution and operations. The experts also discussed the importance and possibilities of increasing the attractiveness of rail services, including local tourism, slow tourism, and the diversification of products.
One of the main outcomes of the conference was that the Covid-19 crisis should be used as an opportunity to highlight the characteristics of the rail offer and to attract customers to the rail sector and services.
The event on 18 May will introduce subsequent training and commercial events organised by TopRail and ETOA to develop European rail tourism.
The broadcast on YouTube can be viewed again here (or at the top of the article): https://youtu.be/g22O0eh395Q
What is TopRail?
TopRail is a UIC project that actively promotes railway tourism products by increasing the visibility of service offerings. This is accomplished by fostering close collaboration between stakeholders and their customers to encourage railway tourism opportunities. Railway tourism is able to offer a wide range of tourism alternatives combining exclusivity, technology, luxury and sustainability whilst contributing to fostering local economies.
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The next TopRail Forum will be held online 26 October 2021.