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How could rail alliances improve mobility and customer loyalty?

May 06, 2013
Author: Philip Martin

This month, I got to speak to Schera Zekri-Chevallet, CMO of Thalys (the European high speed train operator covering Paris, Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam routes) after their announcement to move forward with a new distribution strategy through the GDS airline channel.

What trends or solutions do you think are taking the industry by storm?    

The industry will need to adapt to the following trends, and there are 3 areas.
Schera Zekri-Chevallet, CMO ThalysThe first one is the institutional EC background, which is changing a lot over the years because we have seen, with the liberalisation of rail, the increasing need in mobility which is something demonstrated in your Rail 2020 study. There is also a big change in the access to data that the European commission is trying to push at the moment.

A second area is that we are definitely now in a more customer centric industry where the customer experience is really crucial across all points of contact, meaning for most of the operators that they need to work on the ease of access to content and data.

Door to door solutions is definitely something which is emerging strongly in the industry, because it’s helping the customers calculate the right price to pay and also potentially helping operators to know more about what are the relevant costs behind that. So I think that it’s the right balance between what the customer is ready to pay and what are the costs attached to these solutions. 


What do you mean by the costs, the costs of a door to door solution?

Yes, costs of a door to door solution and costs of basically what the operator is ready to put in giving access to its data and to make sure that in the end you are able to balance what you earn and what you invest.

Is an operator offering door to door and other services or the operator is part of a door to door solution?

It’s both, it’s really the capability of the operator to offer door to door solutions in its own environment meaning like pre-booking, booking, after-sales, description information and that you are really customer centric where you have relevant content, data, relevant information, etc., It’s also more global than that meaning, that it’s what you are able to offer to the customer in a big picture, that will be the same kind of door to door journey where the train is proposed the same way as other means of transportation, which is not the case today.

In this customer centric industry it’s about making big changes in the open source environment, which is the link with data and we find more need for personalisation and local relevance, which are really key for customers.

And there is a third trend, that the customer experience needs to be a unique across all points of contact because of the digitalisation of our world, today if you use a GDS versus a mobile versus an internet site etc. you need to be consistent and make sure that the information that you are going to deliver to the customer is the same thing which is relevant across all points of contact and that basically this experience will not be broken because you are going to use a means of distribution that is going to be different.

All this is pushed by digitalisation, personalisation and increasing need in mobility.


When do you realistically think we will be on a par with the airline industry, in terms of being able to book and travel on rail easily and seamlessly, throughout Europe? 

That’s an interesting one, my first comment on that is this will begin to happen when co-opetition will become a reality, like in the airline industry. You can compete on destination or services but let’s make the access to product easy for all customers across Europe, so when actors decide to enter into a co-opetition mode, which is a mix of local cooperation and competition. I think that when everybody will accept that it is the background and the situation, it will probably ease the progress the railway industry needs to make into making rail easy and seamless.

It also needs a very strong push from the EC, I feel they push into that direction at the moment but they need to pursue what they have started, and without this strong political push we will not succeed in making operators share part or some of the data to their travellers and rail access.

Thalys High Speed Train

Would that be something that could come with the 4th package?

It should in my view, and what they are trying to achieve in making rail data accessible for customers and for everybody, which is not necessarily giving away your commercial strategy to everyone but at least to have a common readiness of the data is a priority in order that customers are able to access rail easily throughout Europe.  I really hope that we make progress on this before 2020, otherwise I don’t think we are going to reconcile the increasing need in rail mobility with customers.


What would be the single factor that would make this move forward?

Alliances for me is part of the answer to this question, if you cannot make everybody agree together then you can have strong alliances where we have this in the airline industry in order to at least make some progress. I think building alliances will definitely better serve the customers and at the same time really remain in a competitive environment and would be potentially one axis of investigation. Also the question around an organisation to aggregate and to federate data from all parties, I’m not sure it has to come from the EC, or even like IATA like in the airline industry, but it needs something or someone on the top in order to ease that, but at the same time ensure that we are not giving to a competitor something we don’t want to give – someone that would be a bit like a “guardian” with some sort of governance so there will be the right use of what is displayed and used etc.


If you had a choice between skiing or a sunny beach for a holiday which would it be? And why?

It’s going to be the sunny beach, sometimes we go skiing because my family love skiing, but for me I’m really into the sunny beach. Because it’s sunny :) and I feel much better there as being a Mediterranean. I’m much better with the sun than with the cold. The other thing is that since a child I’ve felt very good in the water, I really like swimming and water is one of the elements which I cope very well with.


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