Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, May 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
A couple of months ago, a BA flight left Manchester for London Heathrow with 14 passengers in the 189 seats available. At the same time, Virgin Trains are reporting record numbers on its services between the two cities.It is further confirmation of what one senior UK TMC executive has described as the "big shift" from air to rail.But what is really behind this move? Is it green concerns or is there a more fundamental reason for the shift? There has been considerable trumpeting by train operating companies (TOCs) that rail is a much greener way to travel than by air. There is little doubt that it is and in times when the environment and corporate social responsibility have become such prominent issues, it might seem that trains had a compelling case over both air and cars.But successive surveys have shown that green is a tiny factor when it comes to deciding on which form of transport where there are viable options. A study by the Business Travel Research Centre at the UK's Cranfield University, published in February, found that only 5% of travel managers took a "green" stance when considering how to travel. The bulk - 68% - gave it little thought.But figures indicate that there is, apparently, a shift towards trains at least in the UK.(The situation is very different in countries like France and Germany which have been blessed with a punctual and excellent high speed service for years and where rail or air is far, far less of an issue than it is in Britain.)For example, the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC) in the UK has just released figures which show a 16% increase in rail bookings handled by its members in the past year.The Guild's members, who represent the vast majority of agents in the country, made 877,343 bookings in the first quarter of 2008.More people are using trains in Britain both for business and leisure. But what is boosting their use by the former seems to be three different factors. The first is that UK trains are becoming increasingly punctual and reliable. It was the lack of these two crucial qualities which did so much to drive people from rail to air (and incidentally provide Britain with an extremely good domestic air network). The second is that at long last the TOCs are not only simplifying the ridiculously complex fare options but also gingerly introducing a measure of yield management. This, long practiced by both airlines and hotels, offers less expensive seats at off peak times.But the third reason is probably the most relevant to business travel. Methods of booking and, more importantly, of capturing that booking for MI, have improved immeasurably.Business men and women have always travelled by rail but their journeys, with tickets bought at the station, were rarely captured as MI for the travel manager to dissect.This has been slowly changing over the years but the pace of change is now accelerating. Just this week, there were two significant developments. Sabre's GetThere, a corporate online booking tool, has strengthened its co-operation with SNCF, the French national train operator. This gives agents using GetThere access to SNCF's RIVA 3 platform enabling bookings on SNCF, Eurostar and Thalys. The facility will provide comparison between rail and air fares for the same route, flag up negotiated and preferred fares and capture the information. Amadeus is about to start trialling its new Rail Plus facility which is fully integrated into the GDS and will allow agents to book trips with any UK TOC. It follows the successful launch of Amadeus' tool for displaying and booking all Eurostar fares. The growing success of Evolvi, the booking tool designed purely for corporates to book rail in the UK, has also made the task much easier and therefore more attractive to the potential rail user.The industry is now moving - again slowly - into the realms of e-ticketing and, still more advanced, sending barcodes, like those on airline boarding passes, to mobile phones. Deutsche Bahn, the German rail network is the most advanced on this. No doubt the long heralded Smart Card to pay as you go will also soon be with us.Railteam, the union of seven European TOCs to provide a joint reservation system, enabling travellers to book through tickets from, say, London to Amsterdam, will also hopefully be in operation by 2010.The number of rail journeys booked in the UK through TMCs is still a small minority. What will change that is the ability to book quickly, cheaply and efficiently combined with the ability to capture that booking.