Sm@rt Agent winner eyes rail for next move

Coachtrips.com founder Tony Radstone has targeted the continental rail market for his next Internet venture.


Travolution’s Sm@rt Agent winner for June revealed the plans following the phenomenal success of the online coaching agency Coachtrips.com, which has increased parent company The Travel Corporation’s turnover by 60% since launching in 2000.


Radstone believes the selling of continental rail is an untapped market which he can exploit, as he has done with the escorted coach tour sector.


He claimed only Luton-based Double S Travel partner Steve Pattenden is effectively selling overseas rail online through the site Railchoice.co.uk. The site offers a range of international rail passes including Inter-Rail and Eurail to American Amtrak and Canadian CanRail Passes.


Luxury train travel on the Trans-Siberian and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is also on offer.


However, rail is set to be the industry’s next major battleground with Lastminute.com and Travelocity parent company Sabre set to launch continental rail global distribution systems next summer to replace Harry Weeks Travel’s Evolvi system.


Opodo’s majority shareholder Amadeus also plans to reveal a system next year, while Worldspan is also developing a continental rail GDS.


Radstone claimed agents are ignoring the rail sector because it’s not as glamorous as other parts of the industry.


“Nobody is doing it well enough,” he said. “It’s not a sexy area and agents want to sell sexy products. Agents aren’t really interested in a train ticket to Istanbul or basic point-to-point travel.”


Travel technology consultancy senior partner Paul Richer said consumers are ready to book continental rail online in the same way they do air travel.


“I think it will do very well indeed,” he said. “People are starting to realise the benefits of high-speed rail as its city centre to city centre. The site would create more transparency to continental rail timetables.”


Online rail accounted for around 10% of European travel bookings in 2005, according to research from Denmark’s Centre for Regional Tourism Research.

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