I love the rail industry now, it's taking on the challenge of answering the needs of today's traveller and figuring out what's next on the agenda. I spoke to Ron Heeren, Head of Distribution, NS Hispeed recently and asked him a few questions about the trends that will influence the industry over this year...
- What are your expectations for 2013 in the European rail market?
I see two effects – the leisure industry is really holding back. We have been reviewing the tax structure and we noticed that the travel industry is very concerned about the impact of this new tax system. This is resulting in a reluctance to make reservations on leisure reservations, moreover the economy is impacting Holland, we see larger scale unemployment and people are worried about their jobs, so, if there are any developments in 2013 it will be more than last year as we become a “last minute” market and people will make their bookings based on offers through the travel industry. The leisure market will become last minute and reluctance to book trips well in advance. For the business traveller we see (in spite of what I said earlier) there is more or less a more stable situation as of last year, however we see a trend to move from first class to second class quite often, caused by the instructions of the CFO to reduce the cost of travel, but our biggest concern is the leisure market.
- In your view, what single thing needs to be done to improve the way we book and manage rail travel in Europe?
This would have to be harmonisation. We have Holland and Belgium placed in between Germany and France and from that position (as we are not able to relocate Holland to another place in Europe J) we face the situation that we have 80 million inhabitants on the west side and 60 million to the south side. Those countries have their own dominant tariff structure and yield management principles. Therefore, if travelling from Belgium and Holland, it means that your sales system needs to cope with the different tariff structures; these are very much influenced by domestic travel in Germany and in France. So if there was one single thing that needs to be changed I would say place Deutsche Bahn and SNCF at one table, let them talk to each other, and organise international travel at the least in such a way that we can harmonise things so that we don’t need to develop expensive sales systems. If it’s not harmonised, then we need expensive sales systems to cope with the booking dialogue in such a way that at least the customer does not have to go to school for one year to understand the different tariffs to go to Germany or to France.
- What do you think is the most exciting thing within the rail industry is at the moment?
For sure that’s High Speed Rail. I see the success of the High Speed Rail operations of France and Spain, I see success in the growth of Eurostar and we see that the opening of the High Speed Line South is benefitting Holland. Of course we have one or two problems to solve when it comes to FYRA but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think we will have an exciting story to tell in Holland as well.
- What’s your best advice to someone starting out in the industry?
I would say bring in airline experience. If you start in the industry, either come from the hotel industry where you have worked in a yield management environment or come from the airline industry where you have worked either in distribution or IT or the yield management environment because these are the items which are contributing to the complexity of high speed rail today. We have made it very… very complex because of the yield management principles, but here we are, we need yield management to have a healthy profit and loss and without that it will not be profitable, so if you even think of entering the international rail industry then first build up some experience, in either the hotel industry in the yield management areas or in the airline world.