Breaking down borders at the fifth Amadeus Rail Forum

Thomas Drexler

Director of Rail and Ground Travel, Amadeus IT Group

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On Wednesday, we welcomed delegates to the fifth Amadeus Rail Forum, taking place for the first time in Vienna, Austria, in the heart of Europe. Over 140 rail company and travel seller executives joined us to discuss and debate how we can work together ‘towards borderless rail travel’, the theme of the Forum. Through a series of presentations, debates, technology showcases and Q&As, we explored what railways, travel sellers, and technology companies need to do in the coming years to make borderless rail travel a reality.

train station


We opened with a welcome from Dr Erich Forster, CEO of WESTbahn, who presented some of the innovative approaches WESTbahn are taking to achieve competitive differentiation: from selling tickets in tobacconists’ shops in order to reach older travellers, to focusing on customer service with high numbers of on-board staff. WESTbahn is a great example of a new entrant that is making an impact on the Austrian rail market following liberalisation.

However, it’s clear that there is still a great deal of work to do, if the industry is to make the most of open borders. A video presented on day one by Amadeus’ Philip Martin and Katrin Heintschel from the rail marketing team outlined the various stages of their journey by rail from Antibes in the south of France, to the Rail Forum itself in Vienna – highlighting the difficulties travellers still face when travelling across borders by rail. From planning and researching journey options using online travel agents, rail websites, and visiting rail ticket offices; through to booking and setting off on the train, it was clear just how confusing, complex and time consuming the shopping and booking experience can be for travellers.

We were also treated to athought-provoking presentation from Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman, Ogilvy Group. Sutherland gave the audience something new to consider in a speech focused on human behaviour, psychology and perception, arguing that you don’t always need to make a huge change or investment, to reap huge benefit – smaller changes can also make an impact. He cited allowing customers to pre-book space at a pre-existing station car park, as an example of how a small change to a service or process can make an enormous difference to customer perception and satisfaction: not being sure if you’ll be able to park your car before taking the train might deter some travellers from using rail altogether.

Philip Martin, Head of Marketing, Amadeus Rail and Ground Travel, summarises the first day of the Forum in the video below:

On Friday, the Amadeus Rail Forum continued with a focus on innovation to shape the future of rail travel. Amadeus’ Murray Mazer, Head of Innovation and Research, presented the key aspects of successful innovation, explaining that it’s not enough simply to have a vision – a channel to market is necessary to deliver on value.

Mazer’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion on innovation and technology in the travel industry and, specifically, the rail sector, where he was joined by Amadeus’ Francisco Pérez-Lozao Rüter and Francesca Benati from Amadeus Italy, as well as representatives from Deutsche Bahn, Voyages-SNCF.com, and ÖBB. Although diverse ideas were discussed, there was consensus that the internet – and, more recently, mobile technology – has powered the greatest and most radical innovations in travel in recent years, simplifying travellers’ lives.

From the past decade, to the future: the next focus was on big data and the transformational power it could have for the global travel industry. Pascal Clement, Head of Travel Intelligence at Amadeus, explained how big data could be used by railways: whether it’s to give them the deeper knowledge about passenger behaviour that will allow them to assess air-rail connection potential, plan partnerships and interline agreements, or discover trends in demand for new services.

The 2014 Forum ended on a high, with ‘The Big Debate’ as the final session. Moderated by Christopher Clarke from Kwittken, representatives from eBookers, WESTbahn, Thalys and BeNe Rail International joined The Man in Seat 61 and myself to debate what borderless rail travel really means, and how it can best be achieved. It was clear that it means different things to different people: “borderless rail travel is about focusing on how the traveller gets from A to B, not on the products they buy” opined one panelist; another thought that “it’s about a seamless customer experience”; and one took another position altogether: “the borders we need to cross are not technical or even geographic – they’re in our heads!”

“Are you optimistic that there will be significant change in the next five years?” asked Christopher Clarke, in conclusion. “I’m not optimistic – I’m convinced!” was my reply. “Rail will be much better integrated into the travel ecosystem within the next few years, and the whole travel process will become easier and faster”.

Thank you to all our speakers and everyone who joined us over the course of the event, which saw such a great variety of opinions and ideas – it’s clear that there is a bright future for the rail sector. We look forward to seeing the progress made by the time we reconvene at the next Amadeus Rail Forum!


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