‘Tap into cruise database to sell holidays by rail’

Railbookers’ Anna Davies, Rocky Mountaineer’s Hazel Mansell and The Man in Seat 61 Mark Smith discuss how to sell rail holidays with Katie McGonagle

Agents should tap into existing cruise client databases to sell rail holidays, a sector which is the “sleeping giant” of travel, according to a panel of experts.

A Travel Weekly Webcast focusing on how to sell rail holidays heard from Anna Davies, sales and marketing manager for tailor-made rail operator Railbookers and Amtrak Vacations; Hazel Mansell, national account manager for Rocky Mountaineer; and Mark Smith, founder of rail website The Man in Seat 61, which advises on train travel in Europe and the rest of the world.

Mansell said: “If you have a cruise database that you work with, it’s really good to dip into that. About 50% of our guests will travel on our cruise to Alaska as well as combine that with Rocky Mountaineer. So a really good starting point is just talking to those ocean cruise or river cruise guests. They’re a great target demographic to reach out and connect with.

“It’s easy to pop out an e-blast to your database, and we’ve got a great image library so you can create a really nice-looking e-blast. We can give you lots of help and support with that copy content as well, and help you get that out and test your market if you you’ve not done that before. It generates great success, it really does. Rail and cruise is such a great combination to work with.”

Davies said cruise was also a key part of Railbookers’ clientele. “The crossover with the cruise demographic is huge,” she said. “About 80% of our customers have historically cruised in the past as well. So that’s a really easy way to offer rail to your database if you haven’t done so before.

“The challenge is that rail can be overlooked a bit. Sometimes it’s categorised as just the transportation part of a journey rather than the bigger picture. It’s very much a sleeping giant. It’s a huge opportunity for people who want to get involved.”

She added that while the company’s main customer base was over-55s, it had seen more interest from younger travellers, including honeymooners, and from multigenerational groups, amid growing demand for rail holidays.

Smith said: “I started my website way back in 2001 and back then, if anyone told me why they were looking to take the train to Italy or Spain rather than flying, they would typically say they’ve got a phobia of flying, they’re medically restricted or they particularly like train travel.

“And what people say now is two things: they’re fed up with the airport and airline experience, and they want to cut their carbon footprint. Those two things go together like flip-sides of the same coin. And although we’ve seen the Greta Thunberg effect over the past 12 months, and certainly a tremendous press and media interest in alternative travel overland, this isn’t sudden – this has been going on for a good six to eight years, steadily and progressively from the grassroots up. It’s not coming from the rail industry or from the travel industry – it’s coming from the traveller.”