Rail Europe launches online specialist course

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Looking to "train" more retailers to sell European rail travel, Rail Europe Group here rolled out its new TRAC online travel agent rail-specialist course.

TRAC, which stands for The Rail Agent Course, is available at Rail Europe's trade Web site at http://agent.raileurope.com and replaces an earlier print incarnation of the specialist program that had certified some 2,800 travel agent graduates.

The new program features updated training material, links to rail maps and easier navigation, according to the company.

Roman Godzich, vice president of e-business at Rail Europe Group, said the firm's first goal in developing TRAC was to supply retailers with enough information to certify them as experts in European rail travel.

"Rail is not as simple a product as car rental or booking air," he said. "Agents need some expertise to sell it."

The next objective? Automate Rail Europe's specialist program as much as possible.

"It's relatively hands-off for us," Godzich said. "Agents go through a full-fledged training course and receive a certificate without our having to touch it."

In fact, Rail Europe has found most agents are using the program after hours, between 9 p.m. and midnight, he said.

TRAC also is "in line" with Rail Europe Group's strategy of migrating agents to online booking venues; the company recently debuted improved and integrated agent-only booking sites for its Destination Europe Resources (DER) air consolidator and Avanti Destinations tour operator divisions.

And the online specialist program jibes with what Rail Europe executives said they believe is a reciprocal relationship with retailers.

"We believe in supporting agents," said a spokeswoman. "Rail is a very small piece of the European travel market -- it's a niche segment -- but agents can make extra money on it."

Fabrice Morel, president and CEO of Rail Europe Group, agreed. "We created this program to demystify European rail travel and make it easier for agents to sell rail to more clients," he said in a statement.

"Agents who are familiar with the advantages and wide range of choices available are the ones who will sell more and earn more."

Some 300 retailers already have gone online and passed the Web version of the course.

Travel agent participants who correctly answer 16 of 20 questions at the end of the course receive three continuing education units toward certification from the Travel Institute, the former Institute of Certified Travel Agents, and an e-mailed PDF file with a diploma suitable for printing and framing.

Rail Europe, the official U.S. representative of more than 30 national railways, is a leading supplier of Continental European and U.K. rail tickets and rail passes in North America.

Its parent company, the Rail Europe Group, also includes DER, Avanti Destinations and EuroGroups.

To enroll in TRAC, visit http://agent.raileurope.com.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

Book review: FROMMER'S EUROPE BY RAIL
Official Guide of Rail Europe
Wiley Publishing
880 pages, $23.99

must-have handbook for railpass-toting Americans touring west Europe by train, Frommer's Europe by Rail -- Official Guidebook of Rail Europe -- combines detailed railpass and railway network information with the latest destination data from Frommer's.

For openers, the book suggests 10 self-guided itineraries, such as Small Cities of the Benelux and Warm Weather Europe. The second chapter -- Planning Your European Rail Trip -- offers standard guidebook travel tips as well as detailed, railway-specific information, including photos of rail car interiors, diagrams of sleeping compartments, the latest railpass prices and even seat-reservation fee tables. The book also includes a foldout Eurail map and maps of the Paris and London subways.

The rest of the book consists of travel guides to the 17 countries participating in the Eurail Pass program as well as Great Britain and the Czech Republic. So by "Europe," the guide means those countries in which Rail Europe sells a lot of rail travel; those looking for information on railways in Poland, the Baltics or eastern Europe should look elsewhere. -- K.K.

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