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Railbookers hasn’t been overly active in the Canadian trade market, but that’s about to change.
TravelPulse Canada met with Frank Marini, President and CEO and Cris David, Vice President, Sales in downtown Toronto on Wednesday for an update on the largest independent FIT operator worldwide. The company is seeing a strong surge post-COVID, helped by the fact rail travel was deemed essential during the pandemic, and is now double its size over 2019.
“Rail travel means something different to every guest,” says Marini. “We have everything from luxury rail; we're one of Belmont and Orient Express’ largest customers, but we also have overnight rail that we operate; we’re also the National Tour Operator for Amtrak operating the sole operator of Amtrak vacations worldwide in the United States.”
Marini says travel agents are responsible for about 50% of bookings globally, though that ratio will surely rise with a stronger presence in Canada and awareness of its product offerings. Agents should expect invites to webinars and education sessions in the coming months.
“Let’s be honest, when some travel agents hear about train travel, they get scared – no one wants to look like they are unfamiliar or not knowledgeable stupid to their clients. No one wants to feel like they don't know what they're talking about and with rail travel, it can be complicated with so many different rail systems, where to begin, what is the best routing, multi country/different rail systems, it can be overwhelming.
We take care of all of that, we know the best routes, which side of the train to sit on for best views and make all seat reservations. We manage the itineraries and agents simply do the bookings.
That’s our model as we make it easy for our travel agent partners. has really strengthened the dynamic of our company,” Marini adds.
Railbookers offers agents a 12% commission, nothing is non-commissionable, and it includes everything that goes into the package booking: transfer, meals, sightseeing experiences, and hotels; it’s all commissionable as one packaged price.
Agents also need to know that Railbookers takes deposits – generally $250 though that can vary with more luxury packages – with full payment not required until 60 or 90 days before departure, depending on destination. Under that model, agents can lock in tours at current prices for travel up to two years later.
“For the travel agent, it's the convenience of being able to book a rail package rail two years in advance, and deal with it two to three months prior to departure,” says David. “And for the client, they have that additional piece of mind of knowing what exactly to expect with cost as we guarantee that pricing.”
It’s also very easy for agents to book. While the company does not have boots on the ground or in-person sales calls, they do offer nearly 24/7 phone service, with representatives ready to support agents when they need it.
“I find even today that agents are dying for that call support; they want to call somebody they don’t just want to book online as an agent when they have a question on a routing, how it works, etc.,” says Marini. “They don’t have to worry about if an online booking engine with time them out if they don’t book it fast enough or when they still have questions. We came up with this model years ago and it's very efficient.”
That flexibility also allows for quick turnarounds with bookings – there isn’t any waiting for an instant quote request, something that Marini says has allowed agents to book same day travel for their clients.
Railbookers travellers are predominantly in the 40+year-old demographic, though there are a lot of multi-generational travellers and honeymooners. Many guests tag on a Railbookers trip post river cruise, as Europe is Canada’s #1 market, which Railbookers says would be a good tactic for agents, especially those who specialize in cruising.
There’s also the environmental angle as well; rail travel is the 3rd most environmentally method of travel, after walking and biking. That’s helping to increase numbers, especially in places such as France who recently banned air travel for less than a 300 km distance.
“When you travel by rail, you have to arrive only 30 mins prior to departure,” says David. “Then, you get on the train and arrive in the city’s centre, right in the heart of your destination.”
“There’s a reasonable demand for rail travel. It's just been there for many years, and I really believe it's because of its ease of use,” says Marini.
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