Travelport sets out on high-speed rail

High-speed trains have captured a market almost half the size of the airline industry, prompting GDSs to eye expanding rail networks as a future growth sector for travel agencies.

Travelport cites a rapid growth in airline-rail codeshares as a sign of things to come and has begun investing in technology that will allow it to expand its offering of high-speed rail networks worldwide.

Travelport’s commercial director air commerce Klaus Kreher says more than 360 million passengers now travel each year on the fast trains of Europe, including those of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. A further 360 million travel by high-speed rail in Japan, with another 80 million in Taiwan and Korea.

TGV – Rail Europe

“We’ve counted some 1.5 billion annual passengers on high-speed railways worldwide,” Kreher said. “Contrast that to airline passengers at 3.3 billion — rail is now almost 50% of the size of airlines and that gives you an idea of the phenomenal growth of high-speed rail.”

China, meanwhile, plans to expand its fast train network to as much as 20,000km over the next 10 years, prompting Travelport to begin talks with potential partners to help bring the country’s high-tech trains into its system.

Many airlines have embraced the potential of rail, with an increasing number now offering air-rail codeshares that allow seamless travel between airports and trains.

Travelport director of commercial strategy Scott Barber says this multi-modal trend is in line with customer demands for home-to-hotel travel arrangements, and that rail offers a relatively simple value-add for travel agents to offer as part of a holistic service.

“We have 93 airlines now participating in air-rail multi-modal trips, that’s a 27% increase year on year,” Barber said. “They are being fulfilled through 17 rail operators globally, in total there are 108 countries booking this.”

Through its Smartpoint platform, Barber says Travelport has attempted to simplify rail bookings and reduce unfamiliarity.

“The booking commands are exactly the same as in airline bookings, it couldn’t be simpler,” he said. “It’s low-hanging fruit which agents would be more than happy to embrace — we’re seeing good early adoption and good feedback.”