The FVW Congress & Expo is a significantly sized travel fair with a strong focus on travel technology in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Railways participation was limited to Deutsche Bahn and Thalys, being Amadeus the only rail technology provider present. I had the chance to represent Amadeus’ Rail offer during its 2014 edition.
European Rail Travel: starting from Germany
The German rail market, together with the French, is one of the largest and most developed in Europe. If we take a look at multimodality, we see that Germany’s rail network is leading the way in this area: indeed many large German airports such as Frankfurt, Cologne and Dusseldorf have modern rail stations that allow their passengers to reach a multitude of destinations quickly and comfortably. You can even catch a high-speed train direct from Frankfurt airport to Amsterdam Central in under 4 hours for example. The Air/Rail cooperation between Lufthansa and DB helps this and is a great example of how collaboration can benefit customers.
Multimodality and new entrants in the market
Multimodality and door-to-door are initiatives that are backed by the European Commission and core themes which Amadeus is working on to help its travel providers. Air-Rail display is one of our solutions supporting them as it shows our passengers all air and rail travel options side by side, allowing them to choose the best option to provide a seamless booking, ticketing and travel experience.
Furthermore, rail providers in Europe are now experiencing what the airline industry experienced over ten years ago with the entry of Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs). New private rail providers are gradually joining the market – we’ve seen them capture noticeable share in Italy (NTV) and Austria (WestBahn), for instance. The German market, however, is yet to see a new long-distance or high-speed player as competition for rail is currently limited to regional trains only. Even though the market is liberalised, high investment costs and the dominance of DB have not played in favour of attracting new entrants.
On top of this, another challenge has been the rapid rise of the coach market. This industry was privatised just last year in Germany, but already it has brought new life and new players – we now see a much more differentiated, low-cost offer in German coaches, with onboard WIFI and entertainment systems, in addition to having unique direct routes that don’t exist in rail.
The German rail market could really use a strong contender besides DB. Ultimately, this will bring strong benefits for the customer and the wider rail sector, as prices will be driven down, services improved and customer satisfaction rise. It’s only a matter of time before this European giant follows in the steps of its neighbouring countries. Customers will be the main driver of this shift as they demand more and better services. My guess is that it will be a regional provider or a joint venture making the jump to long-distance before a large private operator joins the market.