Train travel is more than a mode of transportation—it’s a timely and lucrative niche that will surprise and delight your clients.
For most Americans, train travel is thought of more as a mode of transportation than a vacation style—and that’s why it’s up to travel advisors to introduce their clients to the concept of pleasure travel by rail. By outlining all that luxury rail travel encompasses, travel advisors can give clients unique new travel experiences that tie into ongoing industry trends, and reap the benefits of tapping into a growing market segment.
“It’s hard for people in the United States to understand that train travel can be part of the vacation experience, because they are usually just thinking about commuter rail,” says Debra Germann, a travel counselor for AAA in The Villages in Central Florida. “We are talking about rail that is so much wider. You just sit back for eight to 10 hours being pampered and taking it all in from a full dome car. It’s a visual trip. A train trip is more visual than anything.”
Eleanor Flagler Hardy, co-owner and president of The Society of International Railway Travelers in Louisville, Kentucky, points out that “there’s a huge difference between regular trains and luxury trains. With luxury trains, you enjoy incredible cuisine, service and comfort while cutting through mountains, deserts and coastal areas of unparalleled beauty.”
And that’s just the start of what makes this niche so appealing to travelers, and lucrative for advisors. Here are seven reasons you should be selling train vacations.
1. You already have clients who will enjoy train vacations.
Whether or not you’ve ever sold rail vacations before, you probably already have clients who would enjoy them. One of the best places to start is with clients who like to cruise or take guided vacations, as luxury train trips share many attractive features with these travel styles.
Kathy Davig, vice president of Travel Leaders/Goli’s Avenues of Travel in La Crosse, Wisconsin, sees rail travel as a good option for “upscale cruisers or upscale tour company travelers. Luxury rail vacations have the upscale perks to which these travelers have become accustomed. Private dining, onboard chefs, gourmet meals, comfortable reclining seats with legroom and extraordinary scenery are all appealing to them.”
What’s more, advisors can sell train travel to cruisers who want more in-depth destination experiences than port visits often allow. “Many cruisers who come to us for train trips say they want to see the interiors of countries, not just the ports,” explains Hardy.
Toby Kish, a senior travel agent for AAA Travel in Dover, Delaware, finds that luxury rail can be a good fit for older travelers, as “the romance of train travel is very appealing to that age group. It reminds them of travel from a bygone era.”
However, luxury train travel is not just for rail buffs, stresses Hardy. “Some of our guests are rail aficionados, but most are sophisticated travelers who want something unique, different and memorable—and they have the time and finances to do it.”
Travel advisors should also consider groups when selling luxury rail travel. They can often have a rail car to themselves depending on the company and size of the group, says Karen Hardie, vice president, global sales for Rocky Mountaineer.
2. Train vacations offer access to remote, unspoiled destinations.
According to Virtuoso’s 2020 Luxe Report, “untouristed and unexpected” travel is a trend for upscale travelers, who are “seeking remote, unspoiled destinations.” Fortunately for such travelers, luxury train vacations offer perks like immersion in natural settings, an escape from crowds and access to off-the-beaten-path destinations.
“Our clients want to see a country from the inside, and experience new and beautiful places unspoiled by mass tourism,” says Hardy. “Trains go to places where most tourists never go, often remote and spectacular areas. They offer beautiful scenery by passing through unspoiled countryside, around mountain peaks, by tiny villages, and over amazing gorges and bridges.”
Hardie says train travel “is a more authentic experience of the wilderness than what you would have any other way. Where rail tracks run, you are going to see wilderness you wouldn’t get to see otherwise, past waterfalls, across rivers and around mountains that the roads don’t reach.”
Railroad tracks were built before the super highways, Kish points out. “They blend into their natural habitat. They allow you to see the countryside without the disturbance of concrete and modern amenities. The ability to see wildlife and nature up close without disruption appeals to the nature lover in everyone. It creates a feeling of calmness.”
3. Rail travel offers time to reconnect with loved ones.
Another top travel motivation noted on this year’s Virtuoso Luxe Report is “spending time with loved ones.” The same study lists the number-one travel trend for 2020 as multigenerational travel, with family travel also among the year’s top trends. And clients looking for quality time with their nearest and dearest may find that train travel is a perfect fit.
“Rail journeys offer family time together,” says Kish. “The slower ride gives families time to talk, play games and just be together without the need to rush to the next place.”
Germann has booked train trips for sisters who travel with their spouses, and sometimes will book four or five couples together on a luxury rail trip. “It’s a kind of a reconnection of friends,” she says. “You make a lot of new friends too while traveling with old friends. The idea is that there is plenty of time to share stories and just enjoy.”
Hardie describes rail travel as “effortless” for travelers, which creates time and space for concentrating on the people they’re traveling with. “As a vacation, it’s a lovely way to see a place that you haven’t been before, while letting someone else orchestrate the journey,” she says. “It’s being able to relax. You can settle back in your seat. You aren’t driving or navigating and you’re not negotiating with whomever is driving and navigating. You are just sitting back and taking in the scenery and each other.”
4. Rail travel taps into modern trends.
One of the most prevalent movements in the travel industry right now is slow travel: Booking.com, for instance, notes that “in 2020, almost half (48 percent) of travelers plan to take slower modes of transport to reduce their environmental impact and six in 10 (61 percent) would prefer to take a longer route to experience more of the journey itself.” Train travel perfectly taps into these desires, making it a top trend for the year according to Forbes, as well as a must-have experience on Virtuoso’s Top 10 Wanderlist Experiences for 2020.
“With slow travel you just have the time to connect with—or disconnect from—the rest of world,” says Hardie. “There is less time pressure when traveling by train. It is innately relaxing. It’s about the journey—it’s not that the destinations aren’t important, but the trip is an experience in itself. Vendors curating these luxury or leisure rail experiences are thinking about what the actual journey is like and how to enrich it. They are adding to it with hosts, storytelling, food and wine. Companies are thinking: How do we make the experience as good as it can be, so that people can just sit back and relax and take in the scenery?”
Davig agrees, adding that many of her clients “yearn to escape from the daily grind and enjoy a slower pace. Train travel becomes a welcome respite.”
5. Train vacations satisfy the ongoing desire for authentic travel experiences.
It’s no secret that travelers want authentic immersion in the destinations they visit. That means everything from tasting local cuisine to learning about other cultures and having unique experiences that not all tourists enjoy. What might not be as well-known is the in-depth local experience that train vacations provide.
The train trips Hardy books include a “focus on locally sourced foods and fabulous dining,” she says. “It’s astounding to imagine all of this fabulous food coming out of such tiny kitchens.”
What’s more, the authentic experience that starts on board continues when travelers get off the train. “Almost all of the rail itineraries are going above and beyond in terms of off-train excursions to special places with unique access,” explains Hardy. Examples may include visits to unique destinations like the quaint city of Quesnel or the charming town of Kamloops, both in British Columbia and home to natural beauty and rich heritage. Along the way, travelers also learn the history of the railway and the incredible landmarks visible during their journey from knowledgeable hosts.
6. Rail journeys offer a unique experience most travelers have not had, relatively close to home.
Although the selling points of luxury train travel overlaps with other vacation styles, it also has its own unique features that travelers are unlikely to have experienced on other trips. And with many of these journeys taking place within North America, travelers have the added comfort of being able to do something completely different without venturing too far from home.
“Trains are a wonderful way to travel,” says Germann. “It’s different from a cruise because you go through the scenery and experience the lay of the land. You are going through areas a tour bus can’t get through. It’s also a comfortable way to travel. You leave the stress of the airport behind and let the train do all the work while you do all the enjoying.”
Hardy agrees that train travel “offers a very different view of the world than traveling by car or ship.” She adds: “Traveling by train offers a unique perspective. The feeling you have when you’re heading down the track, through the forests, with the mountains in the foreground, looking for osprey or bears: These are some of the exhilarating feelings you have while on a train.”
Visiting destinations by train is also extremely convenient: “Trains can usually stop right in the heart of a city,” Hardy points out. “Your tour begins immediately as you head through an often magnificent and historic railroad station.”
7. Luxury rail travel is becoming a bragging rights experience for upscale travelers.
Virtuoso’s Luxe Report notes that “carpe diem travel” is fueling travelers’ desire “to savor as many new destinations and exciting experiences as possible.” As clients look to seize the day with new adventures, it’s an ideal time for advisors to propose novel travel experiences, and rail is at the top of many such lists.
Luxury rail travel is “appearing more and more on our upscale travelers’ lists of must-have experiences,” confirms Davig. “It’s sort of like what river cruising was a few years ago. As people learn about it and what it offers, they are eager to experience it.”
Bragging rights often go hand-in-hand with buckets lists for Davig’s clients because they get to enjoy “a type of travel not many people have been fortunate to have done, and so they want to share the experience.”
She adds that giving clients bragging rights helps business, too: “Recommendations from a travel advisor and also from friends/family who have had this experience go a long way in selling the product, because of the great feeling travelers are left with after a rail trip,” she says. “It’s these experiences and memories that one simply can’t put a price on.”