SEATTLE--American Orient Express, which came under new ownership
this year, said it is looking to travel agents to broaden the
customer base of its luxury rail product.
Previous owners marketed the trips almost exclusively to
non-profit groups, according to the company, based here.
"Before, consumers couldn't access information about our product
from agents. Retailers never heard of the American Orient Express
because there previously was not too much of an effort to tell them
about it," a spokeswom-an for the company said.
But since businessman Henry Hillman bought the company last
year, it is developing new itinerar-ies, charter trips and reaching
out to agents, she said.
For example, earlier this year, AOE became a preferred supplier
of Allied Percival International, Ltd. AOE said it offers 10%
commission, or a higher rate for certain consortia, such as
Until now, almost 70% of the company's business came from groups
like clubs, museums and groups of alumni of Ivy League universities
and gained its reputation in that market mostly through word of
mouth, the spokeswoman said.
But this year, AOE said it is inviting agents on fam trips so
they can understand a rail experience of this caliber. AOE compares
itself to cruising, with itineraries that include the price of
meals, drinks served at dinner, on-board lectures by experts on the
destinations, entertainment in the club car replete with baby grand
piano and some off-train tours, .
"It really is a carefree vacation," a spokeswoman said. "Once
you step on board, everything is really taken care of and it's a
more relaxing way to see the country than in a car.The average
guest is over age 50. The security and camaraderie of traveling
with a group appeals to women traveling alone and older women," she
Staff on board the train, which typically carries 80 passengers,
address guests by name and let them know that they will cater to
all their whims and preferences, she said.
For instance, one guest wrote on the passenger dietary request
form--as a joke--that he was on a "strict ribs and chocolate diet,"
the spokeswoman said.
The first night on board, the chef remembered the comment.
Along with the dinner the guest ordered from the menu, the chef
served him a side dish of ribs and chocolate, she said.
Firm's cars are over 40 years old
SEATTLE--The American Orient Express carriages were built
between 1948 and 1958 and refurbished in 1989.
The sleeping carriages were built by the Pullman-Standard Co. of
Chicago between 1950 and 1956 and are named Paris, Istanbul,
Vienna, Washington and Monte Carlo.
The club cars include the New York Observation Car, delivered in
1948 to the New York Central Railroad under the name Sandy Creek.
It was placed in service on the 20th Century Limited, which ran
between New York and Chicago.
This rail car, dedicated by President Dwight Eisenhower and
comedienne Beatrice Lillie, has plush seating and a bay window
The Seattle Piano Club Car was delivered to the Union Pacific
Railroad in 1954. The Rocky Mountain Piano Club Car was delivered
in 1954 and was originally designed as a 14-section sleeper. The
car was rebuilt as a 44-seat coach in 1965.
The Zurich Dining Carriage was delivered to Union Pacific in
1949. The car was originally designed for the Chicago &
Northwestern Railroad. It was built as a 24-seat diner with a
In 1988, these cars underwent mechanical reconstruction and were
outfitted with new air conditioning and heating systems, electrical
and plumbing systems and added safety features.
After the mechanical and electrical work, the carriages were
shipped to Panama City, Fla., for interior reconstruction prior to
being introduced as the American-European Express.
The total renovation cost was approximately $1 million per car.
The ceilings and the murals in the club cars were painted by Joel
Dyer. The walls are made of Honduras mahogany with inlays by Thomas
Etheridge and Ernest Brannon.
The faux marble walls are by Jonathan Bond and Gary Fickel.