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New design, new logo, new CEO, but same appeal for Rail Europe

Rail Europe’s new tagline is about ‘Unlocking Connections’. That represents a challenge of sorts for Rail Europe, which covers some 25,000 destinations. For everyone else, it represents an opportunity - a chance to travel a diverse continent, conveniently, sustainably, and enjoyably … by train. And Australians are jumping back on the bandwagon (or rather rail-wagon). 

Rail Europe’s new tagline is about ‘Unlocking Connections’. That represents a challenge of sorts for Rail Europe, which covers some 25,000 destinations. For everyone else, it represents an opportunity – a chance to travel a diverse continent, conveniently, sustainably, and enjoyably … by train. And Australians are jumping back on the bandwagon (or rather rail-wagon). 

Addressing guests at an intimate event at Sydney’s Fullerton Hotel, Rail Europe CEO Björn Bender said total “European rail volume” in 2022 was 12 per cent above 2019 levels, which was “unbelievable”. 

“And we are expecting that it will be 20-25 per cent above this year compared to pre-COVID,” he added. 

According to Bender, Rail Europe as a company is back at around 80 per cent of 2019 global sales levels. 

In Asia-Pacific specifically, the company expects to hit 70 per cent – or 100 per cent, if Bender is to be believed – of 2019 sales in 2023.

“Australia was for 15 years, or even more, one of the top three markets of Rail Europe, and we are very, very convinced that this will get back [to pre-pandemic levels] up to the end of 2023,” he remarked.

Among Australians, the top Rail Europe destinations are France, UK, Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. 

Rail Europe High-speed trains in Germany
High-speed trains in Germany

“Huge demand”, but …

Meanwhile, Rail Europe APAC general manager Richard Leonard lauded the Australian travel trade, which had been operating in “very challenging circumstances”. 

“We have only 60 per cent of agencies now that we had before the pandemic, and they’re all struggling with huge demand,” he told those at the event. 

“Europe is on their radar. Everyone wants to go. They’re struggling with airline seats and capacity. They’re struggling with just the ability to transact. So I think it’s very important to acknowledge that.”

Bender, who has been in the CEO role since November 2022, stressed the importance of having Leonard and new key account manager Grant Robertson working closely with the trade in Australia.

“We are working with more than 3,000 partners in Australia, and of course, it’s challenging, because the number was heavily decreasing,” he stated. 

“And that’s even more important for us, to be close to the trade industry, to educate, to really bring the awareness steadily in terms of rail travel.”

Keeping it simple

As far as Rail Europe product goes, Bender said the company had “decided for a very straightforward pass for the next three to five years as a company”. 

“We are currently investing a lot in technology, to really simplify life even more for all the travel agents and tour operators, around the globe,” he remarked.

“And of course, we are enriching our product in terms of having seat reservations for rail passes, for instance, bringing in the Austrian rail in the next few weeks with a complete portfolio.

“[We are] doing a lot in terms of secondary carriers in Europe. So, we still have white spots, of course, talking about Portugal, talking about Hungary, Czech Republic, the Nordics and so on … Ireland. And we are increasing this product range over the next months. But of course also years.” 

Bender said Rail Europe would invest in “innovation in terms of technology and in terms of a one-stop shop, but also in terms of comparison”.

“So the rail industry will stay in a way complex; it will stay more complex than the aviation industry. Because you do have so many different carriers, different fares; it’s not regulated like the airfares.”