March 23, 2023

Status quo

Three major barriers prevent rail from reaching its full business travel potential, says Liz Emmott, TrainLine's Director of Global Distribution and Business Solutions

There’s no getting away from the fact that the corporate rail landscape is complex and fragmented. While major progress has been made in developing new rail services and enhancing the traveller experience, the impact on travel distributors is that aggregating the right data has become significantly harder. Translating it into easy, accessible offers has become challenging to say the least. 

All too often, technology barriers impact effective distribution of rail travel, meaning business travellers are less likely to select train journeys despite their growing preference for more sustainable modes of transport. This is a status quo that cannot be allowed to continue. Overwhelming evidence shows that business travellers want to reduce their historical reliance on air and road travel and they expect to be offered rail alternatives.

The business travel market is an area of huge potential, with high-value customers who are increasingly required to consider sustainability as a factor. Research shows demand for rail is growing, with six in 10 business travellers more likely to consider rail than pre-pandemic. As many as three-quarters indicated that they want to actively reduce their reliance on air travel because of the impact it has on the environment.

If the industry is to capitalise on this once in a generation opportunity to grow, travel distribution needs to adapt, and quickly. For me, there are three major challenges for the industry to overcome to put rail at the centre of business travel decision making:

Historic complexity

While headway has been made, the fact remains that there are too many barriers that prevent business travellers from being offered consistent, real-time access to rail routes. It doesn’t need to be this way. 

The most progressive sellers are seizing the opportunity to select distribution partners that can cut through the complexity to enhance the way they sell rail travel, making it a more compelling offer for customers. Only by taking an open approach to distribution can we eradicate the complexities that threaten to stymy the growth of business rail.

Fragmentation

A mindset shift is required to drive greater industry collaboration. Too frequently the fragmented landscape of technical and commercial agreements between various stakeholders does not promote new, innovative approaches to distribution.

By working more closely together, all stakeholders can increase travel volume and, in the process, bring enhancements to the customer experience.

Discussing, identifying and troubleshooting challenges in distributing rail travel is the fastest way to fix them. And it doesn’t mean that distributors lose their competitive differentiators. The old adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats” really rings true here.

International barriers

The untapped market for international rail travel is vast and it presents complexity and collaboration challenges on an even grander scale. When industry players recognise and embrace the opportunity, it brings into clearer focus the need to integrate with international partners.

Any travel distributor that wants to be able to serve the changing needs of customers needs to break down the barriers or risk being left behind by more agile competitors.

Reworking rail distribution isn’t an easy fix. It won’t be an overnight revolution. But if travel distributors can make incremental changes to how we sell rail travel as an industry, there is a vast opportunity ahead.

And it’s an opportunity that benefits everyone: travel distributors, rail operators, business travellers, their employers – and, most importantly, the planet.