Online travel agents are expected to go live with new rail booking technology within six months after a collaboration was struck between SNCF subsidiary Rail Europe and Pharos Datacom.
And UK-based travel firms have been urged to take advantage of the leading edge technology to develop a new revenue stream by tapping into the UK inbound market.
The tie-up will see agents and tour operators offered XML integration of continental rail product, something that is currently very much a niche sector.
Alan Warburton, managing director of Pharos Datacom, said a shortlist of partners will be integrated first ahead of a wider roll out.
“It will take time to integrate the technology – that’s one reason it’s not common. It’s not easy to do but it is becoming easier.
“We have chosen our shortlist on the basis that we already work with them and know they have the capability to do this and the desire.”
Once the initial roll out has been completed Warburton said smaller intermediaries would be next as well as “technical intermediaries” that offer retailer web services.
The rail booking reservations portal provided though Pharos will allow user to book Eurostar, Eurostar Connections, European point-to-point tickets and rail pass products through the single consolidated link.
Pharos said: “The new technology means online travel agents, classical tour operators and dynamic packagers, specialists, memberships organisations or clubs, distribution networks, comparison sites, portals and other travel organisations have a powerful rail service opportunity to develop markets to France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.”
Warburton said the advanced nature of the technology available in the UK offered an opportunity for travel agents and operators in the rail sector.
“It’s an important aspect of the UK online technology sector that it is well ahead of Europe. If a company in France or Germany had the opportunity to do this they would be on a steeper learning curve.
“There is not the same expertise of using online and web services like XML APIs, therefore the UK is in a preeminent position to tackle the inbound market.”
The advance of rail booking technology is poised to open up the sector to the mainstream and out of the hands of specialists. However, Warburton expects it to be a slow burn.
“If this is just in the hands of the specialists then you have to know those specialists. As the technology develops and the knowledge gets disseminated it effectively hands the opportunity to more generalists.”