A new report entitled “Rethinking Rail” has found rail bookings in Europe’s key markets topped €31 billion in 2014 – approximately double the amount spent on low-cost airline tickets.
However, despite the growing market for rail travel, the industry has failed (unlike flight and hotel search) to exploit online, user-friendly booking procedures.
Service fragmentation and data complexity have slowed the pace of rail’s integration into mainstream online travel shopping channels, argues the report, entitled Rethinking Rail.
Commissioned by SilverRail Technologies and carried out by independent travel industry analysts PhocusWright, the report finds that as rail goes digital to compete, on equal terms, with air and coach services, the potential for disruption to operators and intermediaries is very real.
Rethinking Rail examines the challenges, opportunities and risks associated with these changing market realities.
The report argues online channels could capture up to half of rail volume by 2020.
Online rail gross bookings will grow more than seven per cent annually at least through 2016.
By 2015, total transaction value will reach 11.4 billion in online bookings.
Rail operators’ attitudes towards data sharing are also shifting.
Deregulation and increased competition between rail operators, coach services and airlines is incentivising rail operators to look more favourably on third-party distribution.
This is critical to integrating rail into the broader online travel ecosystem.
Will Phillipson, president of SilverRail Technologies, said: “The report is unashamedly evangelical about the potential for exploiting rail travel.
“The industry has the opportunity to facilitate this, but first it has to recognise the need for change.
“The report highlights the current inefficient and non-cohesive approach to booking rail journeys online: it doesn’t match up to the air or hotel booking experience.
“Legacy systems, fragmentation and outdated processes have, so far, prevented the introduction of an elegant online booking solution.”
Integrated mobile ticketing will grow online bookings, argues the report.
By 2016 mobile will account for around eight per cent of total rail bookings.
In addition to strong mobile web penetration, improved mobile ticketing functionality is incentivising consumers to book on mobile, but future growth is dependent on rail operators’ ability to provide consumers with seamless booking experiences for long and short distance travel.
The full report can be downloaded here.