On 14 November 1994 Eurostar started its service between London and the Continent. After15 years, and more than 100 million passengers, Buying Business Travel looks at how far the service has come
EARLIER THIS YEAR EUROSTAR carried its 100-millionth passenger, an astonishing statistic, and one that speaks volumes for how this high-speed train service has revolutionised travel to and from Europe.
The reliability of the service - it regularly achieves 96 per cent punctuality - has been key to its popularity, and it now has around an 80 per cent share of the market between both London and Paris, and London and Brussels - replacing short-haul air travel as the natural mode of choice.
Alison Hart, manager supplier relations UK & Ireland for BCD, pays testament to the effect it has had on the wider travel landscape: "Eurostar has helped to redefine the idea of travel between the UK and the wider continent," she says. "It gives corporate travellers fast, reliable and convenient access to the heart of Europe."
As well as the on-time departures and arrivals, Eurostar trains arrive in the centre of the city, saving time, reducing the possibility of further delays and, most importantly for travel planners and managers, cutting down on the total expense of the journey - no more long taxi rides or chauffeur picks ups from the aircraft into town.
For travel managers, the frequency of trains is important, with Eurostar operating up to 19 trains a day to Paris and 10 trains a day to Brussels, as is the willingness of Eurostar to work with its clients.
Jan Tucker Jones, global travel manager for BT, says: "We have a very strong relationship with Eurostar and we work towards the same set of aims, such as reducing costs and getting the buy-in of the traveller. As I say to all my suppliers: 'I can get people to try you once, but it's up to you to keep them by offering a very good service.'"
This service has been refined to appeal to business travellers as they take advantage of a 30-minute check-in for Standard passengers, and a 10-minute check-in for Business Premier, something that not even the fastest airports in the UK such as London City can match.
And, despite this enviable speed, Eurostar has continually chipped away at any possible delays. This year has seen the opening of a new travel centre for Business Premier travellers and Carte Blanche holders immediately opposite check-in at St Pancras International, making it much more convenient for business travellers to purchase, collect and exchange tickets quickly.
The service has not stood still in the last 15 years. It had natural advantages, but improvements have been made each and every year with notable milestones being the opening of the Belgian high-speed line in 1998 and the first section of High Speed 1 in 2003, with the final section to St Pancras International completed in November 2007.
This was all-important, slashing the fastest journey times to 2h15 London- Paris, 1h51 London-Brussels and 1h20 London-Lille.
Once this was in place it made sense to include through-ticketing from many UK cities north of London, meaning travellers from the Midlands and the North are now taking the train to Paris and Brussels.
Emma Harris, sales and marketing director of Eurostar, is proud of the product improvements onboard. "In 2005 we did something that no one else had ever done and separated our First Class into Business Premier and Leisure Select, building the appropriate environment around them so, for instance, going out in the morning you have an express breakfast because you want to get on with work and don't want a lengthy meal service," she says. "We also had Philippe Starck help with the refurbishment of the lounges and onboard, and in 2004 we became the first rail company to be on primary screen GDS."
Finally, there are the green benefits, with a train journey on Eurostar emitting up to 10 times as less CO2 than going by plane.
Jan Tucker Jones of BT says: "We've also done a lot of good initiatives with them. Last year, for instance, one was around the CSR angle, which was all about getting people off planes and onto trains, and our account manager at Eurostar was very good helping us get access to lounges and so on, so that the traveller had a good experience of the service. We have a good, honest and open relationship. It is great when, as a corporate, you get a supplier like Eurostar who wants to work with you."
www.eurostar.com; 08705 186 186