BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
Rail Europe's Dau-Khoi Nguyen talks:
Train ticket booking and support supplier Rail Europe this year launched a new technology platform for travel professionals, Easy Rail Access, that provides a single site of access for rail inventory with fast transaction capabilities. It began sharing the tool with select accounts in North America in recent weeks and will deploy the rest of this year. At the same time, Rail Europe is working to build its direct-to-consumer bookings, including this month's integration of its U.K.-based Loco2 platform into the Rail Europe brand. Rail Europe president and CEO Dau-Khoi Nguyen recently spoke with BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker about the new platform and the company's plan eventually to target more of the corporate travel market.
BTN: What drove the development of this new platform?
Nguyen: We are a 400-million-euro business today and plan to be a 500-million-euro business within the next two years. We are using technology to support that ambition. It's part of a very strong digital powerhouse, which is e-Voyageurs technology, which is consolidating digital business activities from SNCF, the French railway company. We are launching a new easy-to-use rail access platform for travel professionals, who represent a third of our business. It's a dedicated new platform to help them have a simpler customer experience, a productive booking journey in front of their customers so they're not losing time.
BTN: How do you access the inventory?
Nguyen: We always had our own technology. That's part of the success. We've been leading as a distributor for the whole world. Easy Rail Access is a totally in-house developed platform, which has its own access and own routes to each and every carrier’s real-time inventory, so when the booking is acquired, there's a real-time request and availability of seats displayed to the booking agents.
BTN: What are the improvements versus your prior tool for agents?
Nguyen: The graphic interface is much more explicit, the search and display. It takes into account the various requirements of travel professional payment methods, and in general, there is a logic in the user experience. You want to have as few clicks as possible between you and finalizing the booking.
BTN: You've said that your travel professional partners are focused primarily on leisure, but do you see a play for corporate travel in your future?
Nguyen: Corporate travel is very focused in our mind. It is going to grow alongside the market. We are focusing on the leisure business, and we're thinking whether travel professionals have the opportunities to expand further from leisure business into corporate business. They are key partners in designing a new partner for them. We want to get insights before we proceed further.
BTN: As corporations wrestle with sustainability issues and try to reduce their carbon footprint, could they drive more corporate business onto trains?
Nguyen: Being more conscious about sustainability is for us a way to promote train. Greta Thunberg in New York raised this awareness. There is no doubt that traveling by train is sustainable and durable. We see and forecast the market numbers to really [grow]. In 10 years, [the cross-border European rail market] could grow from a $5 billion to $6 billion market. Visitors outside of Europe could grow from a $1 billion to $1.7 billion market, so it's fast growing, and sustainability also is part of the decision-making process of our customers. We're very happy to see this [consciousness] and this awareness, whether in a leisure business or a corporate business. All I can say is [there are] indicators that European train is going to continue to develop strongly in the next 10 years. We are carefully watching these trends to see how we can capture that in the future.
BTN: What's happening on your direct-to-consumer booking side?
Nguyen: For the individual travelers, we offer more than 30 websites and are going to think of more a productive and a simpler user experience, leveraging the integration of our Loco2 company, based in the U.K. With the integration of Loco2, we will look at the customer experience, making it as simple and easy as possible for the end user travelers who want to book directly on the platforms. We are going to work on the desktop and the mobile experience.