When planes take on
The launch of Eurostar’s direct service from London to Rotterdam and Amsterdam on April 4 will make more corporates consider rail for travel into Europe, although the initial service is low key.
Two trains a day depart from London St Pancras International at 0831 and 1731, with an attractive city centre to city centre journey time of 3h 01m to Rotterdam and of 3h 41m to Amsterdam – and a new, shorter journey time of 1hr48 to Brussels.
At present there is no inbound direct service, as the British and Dutch governments have yet to agree on passport and security checks on departure, and this is not expected until the end of 2019. Instead, inbound passengers can jump on a Thalys service and change at Brussels to complete formalities, with a typical end-to-end journey time of around 4h 40m. Business travel consultant Nick Hurrell, of 3sixtyglobal, says: “Surely the UK Border Agency could have sorted this fiasco out sooner? The reality is that most people will probably continue to fly between the cities until the governments get their act together.” The lack of frequency and of a direct inbound service will limit Eurostar’s appeal to business travellers in the shortterm. Travelling out to Amsterdam on the evening departure for meetings the following morning and then returning by plane is a feasible scenario, however. And in the longer term Eurostar hopes to challenge airlines who currently fly four million passengers a year between London and Amsterdam.
But Eurostar is never likely to become the dominant player as on London-brussels and London-paris, due to the longer journey time.
The operator is also boosting its appeal to business with a new loyalty scheme and renewed focus on reducing carbon emissions. Club Eurostar rewards customers for their frequency of travel and spend rather than the class they travel, and members can now spend points on upgrades, in addition to free tickets and discounted travel, with no blackout dates or fees.
Are new rail services between London and Amsterdam a sign of things to come? reports
eurostar’s long-established environmental programme Tread lightly has cut carbon emissions by 32% and waste by 50%, and a new ten-point plan based on the 2016 paris climate agreement is now in place. eurostar’s newer trains – as used on all amsterdam and many paris and Brussels services – are all equipped with wifi, offering a productive journey end-to-end.
a journey time of four hours is often considered the tipping point for modal shift, with some cities in northern Germany also within that range via a change at Brussels – cologne and Dusseldorf, for example.
Many business travellers have not considered rail in europe due to the perceived difficulty of booking, but this is being addressed by online specialists such as Voyages-sncf and Trainline, as well as GDS providers.
paul lacey, uk Manager of Voyages-sncf, says the new amsterdam route has significant potential. “we are definitely seeing sustained growth in business travel as the benefits of time, comfort and the ability to work and communicate via wifi become more apparent,” he says.
“The GDS, often linked to selfbooking tools, and our trade website are the preferred booking methods for our TMC and business travel partners.
“The introduction of print@home on eurostar connection routes is a new feature. paris, Brussels, cologne and northern french and european cities are still the most popular with business travellers because of journey times, but we have also enhanced the offer in Italy and Spain.”
Trainline for Business research shows that business travellers will opt for train rather than plane on journeys of four hours or less. “The shift to rail from air on high-speed international routes is being encouraged by businesses for a variety of reasons,” says a spokesperson. “rail travel is vastly more environmentally friendly, and the office-tomeeting journey can often be faster.”
amadeus is leading the way in connecting more train operators to GDS with investment of €100million planned over the next five years. It offers bookings on up to 90 train operators worldwide, with asia pacific being identified as the next growth area. Train operators with Iata codes are shown in the same display as airlines. antoine de kerviler, Global Head of rail and Ground Travel at amadeus, says: “people want the simplest possible booking experience using mobile, but that can be quite difficult for cross-border travel as each country has its own standards. De kerviler adds: “we are working hard to achieve better integration including cancellation, refunds and exchanges of tickets. corporate travel policy is increasingly mandating use of rail and our aim is to make it as easy to book as air travel.”