Thursday, October 27, 2011

News: Train booking in Europe made easy (5 PHOTOS)

A NEW website launched recently by global rail products leader Rail Europe will enable travel agencies in Southeast Asia to provide improved services to their clients.

The Southeast Asian portal will be supported by Dynasty Travel, Rail Europe’s partner in Singapore, announced Rail Europe chief executive officer Pierre-Stephane Austi at the launch in Singapore.“With the new website, travel agencies from Southeast Asia can now access the entire European rail product range, including Eurail, BritRail, Swiss Passes and France Railpass. 

“Another advantage is that they will also be able to book point-to-point tickets, domestic or international, which include tickets for Eurostar, TGV, Thalys, AVE, FrecciaRossa and more,” he said.

The portal can also be used for stand-alone or group reservations on all European trains as well as rail products from other countries such as USA Amtrak, Japan Pass, Indian Luxury Trains, Japan Pass and Australia’s The Ghan and The Overland trains.

According to Austi, the demand for European Rail Products in Southeast Asia increased dramatically this year. Between January and July, South East Asian sales increased by 91 per cent in Vietnam, 71 per cent in the Philippines, 59 per cent in Malaysia, 54 per cent in Singapore and 28 per cent in both Indonesia and Thailand.

Founded as a joint-venture of French National Railways (SNCF) and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), Rail Europe promotes, distributes and sells rail products in more than 45 countries across Europe to North and South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand and Africa/Middle East. It aims to promote rail travel and help visitors discover the heritage and scenic landscapes of Europe and the rest of the world.

In the market for 16 years, it has always enjoyed a successful partnership with long-haul airlines. “We complement the services of long-haul airlines by carrying people, once they reach Europe, to other European destinations on our rail routes,” said Austi.

“Big trends and markets that we see increasing very strongly are the South American and Asian markets like China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, markets like Japan, India and the Middle East are increasing slowly. Our total Asian market last year was about 60 per cent, with Malaysia alone forming one per cent of the market.”

Austi said more travellers are opting to fly to Europe and then exploring its many cities by train.

“They come to Europe specifically to make use of our extensive rail network to explore the different cities. Not only do we have the the strongest density and frequency of railways networks linking cities both domestic and internationally, but there is also a choice of high speed lines, scenic train lines and long distance lines to choose from. It all depends on the traveller’s needs and interests.

“Other benefits of rail travel include departure from city centres, access on board until the last minute, no restriction on items carried, no security check, no delay for traffic congestion and it being a faster option for certain routes. For instance, for routes under 1,500km such as the Paris-London or London-Amsterdam route, the train is faster than the plane.”

He believes rail products have a bright future because of continual developments and improvements in the industry.

“This not only covers onboard comfort and facilities with improved coach and seat designs and the inclusion of WiFi zones, but also more and more new products for overseas customers which allow leisure and business travellers to make the most of their time. The development of more high-speed lines should also be welcomed, such as the France-Spain high speed line which will be fully operational next year.”

Effort to weed out unlicensed operators

UNLICENSED travel agents and tour operators beware. The Licensing Division of the Tourism Ministry is conducting an operation called Ops Cuti to weed out unlicensed travel agents and tour operators as well as tour operators selling and conducting outbound tour packages without the outbound licence.

Checks will be conducted at all international airports in the country from time to time until end of the year, as well as when necessary in the future.

When booking international tour packages, members of the public are advised to ensure that they book their outbound tours with travel agents and tour operators who have valid outbound licences issued by the ministry to avoid any inconveniences at the airport.

Ops Cuti aims to help the ministry in addressing the issues of illegal operators and those without a valid outbound licences which have tarnished the image of the travel and tour industry, as well as affected the livelihood of licensed operators. 

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents members are advised to have the tour itinerary, list of passengers and valid Outbound Licence Number issued by the ministry with them at all times when conducting a tour, and to assist the licensing officers in providing these documents when requested.

For details, call Matta at 03-9222 1155.

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