Amadeus & Seat 61: future rail travel at Rail Forum 2014

What does the future rail travel hold and how is Amadeus working with Seat61.com to make this a reality?

From London to Vienna with a spot of lunch in Brussels and an afternoon in Cologne. Train  travel is moving to a new era of connectivity. Mark Smith, founder of Seat61.com speaks to Amadeus during the Amadeus Rail Forum 2014 about what improvements he would like to see to make the travel experience better connected and how he sees train travel changing in the future. In the following video we speak to Mark Smith about how he sees the train booking experience evolving.

Connectivity is an essential element in all journeys from train travel to beyond, multimodal travel is evolving in Europe and beyond thanks to Amadeus working with the European Union and travel players from the public and the private sectors. Learn more about Amadeus’s vision for multimodal travel
 
 
 
 
Transcription:
 
Philip Martin:
Right, with me is Mark Smith, the man in seat61. Thank you so much again for coming to the rail forum. First question, I’m assuming you came here to Vienna, sunny Vienna, by train, what was the journey like?

Mark Smith:
Of course! I hopped on a morning Eurostar, lunch in Brussels, an afternoon in Cologne and then the Cologne-Vienna sleeper, and it was a wonderful journey down the Rhine as the evening light fell on the Rhine valley vineyards and the Lorelei rock.

Philip Martin:
I can’t think of a better journey or a better way to travel to Vienna. Now, you’ve just been on a panel and one of the questions, which is I think quite a tricky question, but it was a question at the end which said ‘If there was one thing that you would like to change which would make a difference over a short period of time, what would it be?’ 

Mark Smith:
Well, I think one niggle, it’s a huge niggle, I spend a lot of my time chasing up issues around this, it’s the 90-day booking horizon. We could discuss whether 90 days is enough in competition with airlines but even if the industry could stick to 90 days and enforce what I presume are its contractual rights for infrastructure providers to plan their engineering work and timetable changes in sufficient time to release data and release it reliably and at the 90 days, I think that will be a vast improvement. At the moment we have bookings for Christmas that don’t open until the middle of November or in some cases the beginning of December. Of course in some cases by that time a lot of business has been lost. We see engineering work that means data is incomplete even within the 90 days under normal circumstances and the question people ask me is, ‘Are there really only going to be two trains between Paris and Barcelona early in September? Or are the other two trains going to suddenly appear from nowhere if we wait a week or two?’ and I can’t tell them.

Philip Martin:
Yes, I remember you telling us before, that there was quite a demand for long distance travel from the UK by train, for various reasons. If I remember rightly, Italy was one of the most popular routes to take, how has that changed over the last couple of years? Is it still probably the most popular?

Mark Smith:
I think Italy always will be a huge draw for leisure travellers and budget airline experience is not getting any better so there is definitely a demand which I don’t think the industry caters for or even believes exists for train travel from the UK to places like Italy and of course Spain. Spain is the other big draw, it’s a wonderful experience, there is some fantastic scenery in places you can stop off on the way, it’s remarkably affordable. The big problem is of course, finding out about it and booking it, that’s the bit that isn’t easy. In fact it’s the other way round compared to the airlines isn’t it? It’s really easy and cheap to book a flight but the experience is awful, the train journey experience is wonderful but booking it is awful and we’ve got to try and make that better.
 
Philip Martin:
One other thing, we took the journey from Antibes to Vienna, it was 16-17 hours altogether in the end. What are the type of questions- because I know what was going through my mind as we were booking it and looking at how we would do the journey- what are the biggest questions you get from the travellers on a longer train journey? What is it that maybe they’ve got a fear factor about?

Mark Smith:
Well it depends whether we are talking about a British person, a European basically understand train travel even if all the trains they’ve used have been in their own country, or whether we are talking about an overseas visitor. Overseas visitors need far more reassurance about how you check-in for a train and luggage. They’re obsessed with luggage and whether there’ll be room for it. Well of course, we don’t worry about it, we know there always is, it’s not something we think about. They need to be told, ‘Yes, luggage is not a problem’. They need to be told that the train goes when it goes and if you’re on it, you go with it. If you’re not, you get left behind, but they want to know exactly how soon they should be at the station, all that sort of thing that we perhaps take for granted. They’re also obsessed with facing forwards, that’s something we don’t often take into account in Europe. They’re not used to going backwards. They’re also concerned about connections; they don’t understand that ten minutes between a train in Switzerland is actually plenty. In fact, the answer I normally give is ‘It’ll take you two minutes, what are you going to do for the other eight?’ So they need lots more reassurance about connections.

Philip Martin:
Now, I guess you’re going back home by train again?

Mark Smith: 
Of course!

Philip Martin:
When will that be?

Mark Smith: 
I’m going back tomorrow morning. I’m going to be on the 06:52 out of Vienna, change at Frankfurt and Brussels and I’ll be into London the same day. Vienna to London in a single day.
 
Philip Martin:
Totally relaxed, I’m sure.

Mark Smith: 
 Absolutely, I have a good book, and I’m sure I’ll be able to good iced beer or a bottle of red from the buffet car.
 
Philip Martin:
Mark, thanks again for coming to the rail forum and participating on the panel and I wish you a safe trip back and a wonderful evening in Vienna.
 
Mark Smith: 
Thank you!