Last week, we welcomed over 130 international guests in Sophia Antipolis to discuss the challenges of making rail travel more customer-centric. How do we make rail more visible to the rail traveller? How do we simplify the whole booking and rail ticketing experience? Could technology be an enabler of a simplified, truly integrated rail journey?
Mark Smith shared with us the rail travellers' frustration when booking an international train trip. The number of booking processes, payment options, seating arrangements or fare conditions equals the number of train operators! The rail market offers a huge potential with 320 million high-speed passengers in Europe in 2011 and there is a growing demand for door-to-door travel.
Collaborating to embrace the market potential
How can the industry work together to really put customers first and embrace this market potential? This can only be achieved with collaboration. Deutsche Bahn, Trenitalia and Thalys shared their distribution strategy with us and how they intend to make rail more visible, and take on the rail liberalisation.
Italy is one of the first countries where market liberalisation is a reality, and it occurred at a time when high-speed rail was also booming, the so-called Italian High-Speed Rail Revolution. Serafino Lo Piano explained how important it is for Trenitalia to expand their distribution internationally to reach tourists and business travellers from abroad; how services onboard and a comfortable trip experience helped them meet the needs of the demanding business traveller in the face of competition.
“We want to be compared to flight solutions: for the travel agent to be able to offer the best option and for the customer to able to choose what fits him better” Serafino Lo Piano, Trenitalia
We also heard from travel sellers such as Rail Europe and UVET Amex. Pierre-Stéphane
“The Amadeus GDS is the tool for serving our corporate customers; the rail content and functionalities are seamlessly inserted into the existing logical framework of the Amadeus PNR. The learning time is reduced to a minimum. The whole product has the familiar ‘look and feel’ of the Amadeus system.” Angelo Rizzi, UVET Amex
Efficiencies and Technology
Eberhard Haag, EVP Operations and Hervé Couturier, EVP Development at Amadeus showed us the Amadeus Technology benefits: looking into the Amadeus Data Centre, the second European largest privately owned data centre. Hervé gave us an overview of the evolving technology and R&D investment made by Amadeus to be at the forefront of innovation, especially the shift from operating legacy platforms to new generation technologies such as open systems.
"Amadeus is no. 1 in Europe by total R&D investment in the computer services category and in the travel and tourism area. Our technology is future proof, scalable, stable, reliable" Hervé Couturier, EVP Development, Amadeus
We also looked at what the future might entail with James Woodhuysen, Professor of Forecasting and Innovation, De Monfort University who challenged the railways to follow what other industries are doing and what is happening in Asia, especially what China intends doing in Europe for rail too!
Towards a Customer First strategy
At the end of day 2, we witnessed an interesting debate hosted by Journalist Nick Kingsley, Railway Gazette International, about the rail deregulation and its impact on railways. We heard from MEP Brian Simpson about his vision of a European Single transport area and what are the main challenges he sees that need to be overcome to be truly customer-centric; his biggest concern was why the railways can’t collaborate on through railway ticketing systems.
On how to bring the customer first, all actors seemed to agree that there is some work to be done, but there is still a long way to go. When we asked the audience: “Do you feel that the rail industry is becoming more customer-centric?” Here the answers:
- 27% Absolutely
- 47% Should be more
- 26% Not really
Rail liberalisation is now a reality. We could feel last week that everyone in the industry is ready to embrace this opportunity. Liberalisation is meant to provide a more customer-centric approach. Let’s see what happens over the next few years: will the traveller become a customer?