The boom in business rail travel has yet to be matched by developments in cross-border distribution or availability alongside flight options on global distribution systems.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel director of industry and public sector affairs Nigel Turner told the Guild of Travel Management Companies Conference on Monday:
“We see about 70% of people travel between London and Paris or Brussels by rail. But if a client called up wanting to travel from Florence to Pisa they would probably be routed by air via Milan, when it is one hour 20 minutes by rail.”
Adrian Watts, sales and distribution director at rail retailer thetrainline.com, told the GTMC: “Sales through travel management companies have more than doubled in the last seven years.”
However, journeys beyond Eurostar services require multiple bookings. Watts said: “You cannot book a typical business trip, London-Paris-Brussels-London, in a single transaction.”
The most recent bid to rationalise cross-border booking – the Rail Team project launched in 2007 – has floundered.
“There is no equivalent of international airline association IATA,” said Watts. “There are different booking platforms and processes, no common ticketing standards and too many vested interests.”
The difficulties came to the fore during the volcanic ash crisis as travel companies struggled to repatriate travellers from around Europe. “It has come to the European Commission’s attention and we hope it will now be addressed,” said Watts.
He urged the business travel sector to join the UK rail industry in lobbying for a pan-European distribution system.
At the same time, efforts to combine air and rail services on a single booking screen are being delayed by the complexity, say the GDSs, and the fact the margins to pay for integrated distribution are much tighter on rail than air.
Travelport president and managing director for Europe Olaf Gueldner said: “The train operators have not yet seen the value of GDSs.”