Contacts: Europe by rail
" ACP Rail International:
www.eurail-acprail.com; (866) 938-7245
" Rail Europe (Rail Europe Group): http://agent.raileurope.com;
" DER (Rail Europe Group): www.der.com; (800) 838-3903
" Flight Centre:www.flightcentre.us; (866) 967-5351
Eurail Group, its U.S. sales agents and
other, newer players are launching products and targeting new
niches to encourage more U.S. visitors to travel Europe by
is trying to stand out in the rail-travel crowd, angling to imprint
itself in the minds of agents, operators and travelers as the best
bet for booking rail.
All of which
often leads to confusion in trade and consumer circles.
Eurail is a
Netherlands-based consortium of 26 European national railways that
is charged with devising and distributing rail passes for overseas
visitors and then distributing them, along with point-to-point
tickets, outside Europe.
Eurail markets in
North America primarily via its two authorized sales agents: Rail
Europe Group in White Plains, N.Y., and ACP Marketing, based in
(Eurail also has
global distribution deals with Gullivers Travel Associates --
represented in the U.S. by operator Travel Bound -- and Flight
Centre, but the amount of stateside business they do is
Eurail, in most
U.S. travelers minds, is linked with its Eurailpass, Eurail
Selectpass and Eurail Regional Pass, but the consortium is
sometimes confused with similarly named sales agent Rail Europe
Group, owned by the French and Swiss railways.
Rail Europe Group
sells Eurail product, along with some rail passes of its own, in
the U.S. and Canada through its Rail Europe and Destination Europe
Resources (DER) divisions.
Jean Heger, vice
president of sales and product marketing at Rail Europe Group, said
the firm has found in focus groups that the typical U.S. consumer
doesnt understand what Rail Europe is vs. Eurail vs. a regular
[national] railway ticket.
Thus, Eurail and
Rail Europe are not interchangeable terms -- an important
distinction given that Eurail itself now has begun distributing
rail passes in the U.S. via its www.eurail.com Web site.
Rene de Groot,
Eurails managing director, said Americans account for 89% of
bookings at that site, at which Eurail hopes to do 20% of business
within three years.
It was a giant
hit from day one, he said. Were now focusing on online sales,
although our main income and business remains 90% travel
Eurail product is
sold in the U.S. by ACP Marketing, as well, through its ACP Rail
International division, which is also the sole authorized U.S.
distributor for U.K.-only rail purveyor BritRail. BritRail is not affiliated with Eurail.
also runs AccesRail, an alliance of railways operating as a virtual
airline under IATA carrier code 9B, which lets travel agents book
rail and air tickets together via GDSs, using a single
still, many Eurail passes and tickets -- along with BritRails U.K.
passes and some exclusive Rail Europe Group and ACP products -- are
also available through various subagents.
One such player
is Wandrian, a Newton, Mass.-based technology developer and
subagent of ACP Marketing that entered the rail business with
travel trade site RailAgent.com and consumer portals Railpass.com and ItaliaRail.com, a joint effort with Italian national
heads nor tails
and market-savvy travel agents could be forgiven for getting
confused, especially since each railpass distributor often markets
railpass or ticket offers or new products as exclusive
European rail products rarely are exclusive to any one distributor
for very long.
One example: In
early October, Rail Europe Group rolled out discounted, two-day
France Rail passes, good for off-season train trips in France
through Jan. 31. It had negotiated on its own with parent company
Societe Nationale de Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF), the French
off-season passes are priced at $99 in second class and $129 in
first class. Standard France Rail passes are issued for a minimum
of four days, at $229 in second class and $263 in first
President Mike Fuller said its only a matter of time before that
pass is also available at RailAgent.com.
source those off-season passes from them, just like everyone
RailAgent.coms economy-of-size buying power, the site also will be
able to offer agents a commission similar to what Rail Europe and
DER are paying on their own product, according to
The French pass
isnt the only Rail Europe Group product to get poached of
decided to take over the marketing of three two-country rail passes
-- Austria-Czech Republic, Austria-Switzerland and
France-Switzerland -- that Rail Europe Group had devised on its
The four passes
now are being marketed as brand-new Eurail product and thus are
available to all Eurail partners.
Theyre really the
same products, just with the name Eurail with them, said Heger at
Rail Europe Group.
To de Groot at
Eurail, the takeover was natural and inevitable. I asked the
national railways to ... let us market them to customers advantage;
[sales] will be expanded on a global scale, he said.
But Rail Europe
Group is not bitter; according to Heger, the U.S. market for
potential rail travelers still goes largely untapped, and theres
room for competition.
I think all of us
-- and Id use the term friendly competition -- are interested in
increasing rail ridership, she said. Theres room for all us to
grow, reach out and get more Americans on the trains.
Eurails de Groot
agreed, but stressed his firm will increasingly look to nurture the
untapped U.S. market on its own, targeting niche markets with
tailored rail products.
But if various
rail distributors dont differ appreciably in product, pricing or
commission, how can they capture consumer or agent mindshare to
their own advantage?
vice president of business development at AccesRail, Montreal,
pointed to differences in distribution approach.
ACP is dedicated
to a multichannel distribution approach, bringing rail product to
consumers where and when they want it.
For example, ACP
offers not only AccesRail for booking, but its proprietary,
Internet-driven ACP RailNet system; a trade and consumer call
center; an in-house travel agency, ACP Secrets Holidays; and a
walk-in retail outlet, the Brit Shop in New York.
By contrast, Rail
Europe Group focuses on both call center and Internet sales at its
two trade Web sites -- with a strong effort to migrate the bulk of
trade sales online.
In fact, the Rail
Europe travel agent site at https://agent.raileurope.com was upgraded in
June to offer GDS-style booking of live train point-to-point ticket
Wandrian and Eurail (in the U.S.) focus solely on Internet
distributors can also distinguish themselves through periodic
booking incentives, particularly for agent partners.
offers $5 Amazon.com coupons with each two-day France Railpass,
while RailAgent.com awards retailers $10 bonuses for bookings of
Eurail rail passes worth more than $200.
compete on commissions. Rail Europe Group pays 4% to 7% on
point-to-point and 4% to 9% on passes, with highest pay for
RailAgent.com pays 5% to 12% commission, as does ACP
Fuller said rail
distributors also differ on value-add and whether or not they
charge service fees. Those are the things that tend to make a
difference these days, he said.
Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].