Last week, we welcomed over 130 guests from 14 countries at the Amadeus Executive Briefing Centre in Sophia Antipolis. Some 90 customers and representatives from the rail industry - railways, TMC’s, OLTA’s, rail and technology experts and trade press – joined us to discuss the challenges of making rail travel more customer centric.
How do we make rail more visible to the traveller? How do we simplify the whole booking and ticketing experience? Could technology be an enabler of a simplified, truly integrated rail journey?
Towards a customer centric industry
Paco Pérez-Lozao, SVP New Businesses, Amadeus IT Group SA opened the forum and set the scene: how do we keep the traveller at the centre of the travel ecosystem? We believe this is possible, and technology, which facilitates this process, can help. Paco explained how Amadeus is investing heavily in research and development to provide an increasingly better customer experience and a full travel offer.
Yet, Mark Smith shared with us the confusion and frustration of rail travellers when trying to book an international train trip. The number of booking processes, payment options, seating arrangements or fare conditions equals the number of train operators!
We also heard from Thomas Drexler, Head of Amadeus Rail, that the rail market offers a huge potential with 320 million high speed passengers in Europe in 2011 and there is a growing demand from travellers for door-to-door travel.
So, how can the industry work together to really put customers first and embrace this market potential?
A first answer came from the railways themselves. Deutsche Bahn, Trenitalia and Thalys shared their distribution strategy with us and how they intend to make rail more visible, and take on the opportunity of 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 on-board 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 Austi, Rail Europe’s CEO, explained how they make rail visible overseas with the help of Amadeus. Angelo Rizzi from UVET Amex shared with us a case study on how they managed to reduce by half the overall rail booking time using Amadeus FlyByRail Track and thus drastically improving their productivity.
“The Amadeus GDS is already the basic tool for serving our corporate customers; the new rail contents and functionalities are seamlessly inserted in the existing logical framework of the Amadeus PNR. The initial learning curve for front line staff 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
On day 2, we looked at technology and how it could help make the industry more customer-friendly.
"Amadeus is no. 1 in Europe by total R&D investment in the computer services category and in the travel and tourism area." Hervé Couturier, EVP Development, Amadeus
Eberhard Haag, EVP Operations and Hervé Couturier, EVP Development at Amadeus showed us the benefits of the Amadeus Technology: Eberhard looked into the Amadeus Data Centre, the second largest privately owned data centre in Europe, at the core of Amadeus operations, while 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 Technology is Future proof, Scalable, Stable, Reliable" Eberhard Haag, EVP Operations, 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, to look for long term trends and not just 10 years ahead and also to watch out for what is happening in Asia, especially in China and what China intends doing in Europe for rail too!
We also saw an impressive demonstration of what mobile journey planning can be with HaCon’s CEO Michael Frankenberg and heard from Lufthansa Fred Schuck about their experience of outsourcing IT systems to Amadeus.
“From Silos to a Customer Centric System” Fred Schuck, Lufthansa
At the end of day 2, we witnessed an interesting debate hosted by Journalist Nick Kingsley (Railway Gazette International) about market deregulation and its impact on railways and on the customer. 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 ticketing.
Overall we saw some hints of a response on how to bring the customer first, and all actors seem to agree that there is some work to be done to improve the overall traveller’s experience, but until everyone moves towards one single direction, 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’s what they answered:
> 27% Absolutely
> 47% Should be more
> 26% Not really
During the previous Rail Forums, Rail liberalisation was only really starting and was still an obscure and distant concept. Now, it’s a reality in a few markets already and we could feel last week that everyone in the industry is ready to embrace this opportunity.As the theme of this year’s Rail Forum implied, market liberalisation is meant to provide a more customer centric approach, with increased competition between existing actors and the arrival of new entrants.
Let’s see what happens over the next few years, it’s going to be quite interesting, will the traveller become a customer? See you at the next forum!