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Luxury Trains: Redefining Tourism

Luxury trains, which offer services that can make the best hotels and airlines in the world pale in comparison, are the latest craze. The product has long been popular among domestic and inbound tourists in western countries, and is slowly gaining impetus in India too. The difference between luxury train tours and a regular journey is that one can experience several tourist spots in one go without compromising on comfort and lavishness. Such tours are now emerging as the new visage of extravagance in travel. Discerning Indians seek more relaxed and lavish journeys nowadays, and luxury trains are at the pinnacle of this aspiration.


Chugging through India

In India, Palace on Wheels was the first luxury train that started operations in 1982. ‘The Maharaja Express, Deccan Odyssey, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, Indian Maharaja and the Golden Chariot were added thereafter.

Over the years, international tourists to India have taken a liking to the concept, as they dub it a once in a lifetime experience. Moreover, luxury trains are becoming increasingly popular among domestic tourists, evident from the Palace on Wheels booking numbers from this segment. The recent Palace on Wheels journey had 84 passengers, including 23 domestic travellers. Vinod Ajmera, Managing Director, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) said, “The new season started in September and by the end of the fourth trip the royal train had attracted 190 tourists. We are expecting that, by the end of this season in April next year, about 3,000 people will come aboard Palace on Wheels.”

Pramod Sharma, General Manager, RTDC, further informed that during the last season ending April 2013 about 2,400 passengers from 41 countries travelled on the royal train. The highest number of foreign travellers came from Britain, followed by the America. “The Palace on Wheels is rated the number four luxury train in the world and we plan to make it even better, redefining vintage royalty. It takes tourist on a splendid tour covering Delhi, Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur and Agra giving our passengers the experience of a lifetime.”

Maharashtra was the second state to introduce a luxurious train - The Deccan Odyssey. To increase the occupancy this season, Deccan Odyssey has been launching discounted value-for-money packages. “Deccan Odyssey will roll out a special offer of a 1+1 ticket free for travel between November 28 and the end of December. The train seats 84 passengers and enjoys 50-70 per cent occupancy during the season, of which 80 per cent are foreign tourists. We are aiming at 100 per cent occupancy through this initiative. The focus is to promote Maharashtra through the Deccan Odyssey,” said Satish Soni, Joint MD, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

The train criss-crosses Mumbai – Sindhudurg- Goa- Kolhapur- Daulatabad- Ajanta Caves- Nashik and disembark at Mumbai. “This royal journey of seven nights/eight days has confirmed its departure dates from Mumbai for the season October 2013 to January 2014. Besides regular seven night journeys, this year Deccan Odyssey will also offer four short departures on Mumbai - Goa and Mumbai - Sindhudurg routes. The new tariffs for lean season and peak seasons are also revised for all types of accommodations and duly updated on the website,” informed Kishori Gadre, General Manager, MTDC.

Maharaja Express has also announced 50 per cent discount on the second ticket. “This offer is only extended to Indians as well as person of Indian origin (PIO), non resident Indians (NRIs) and overseas citizenship of India (OCIs) and is valid on select departures in the month of November and December 2013.

The Golden Chariot, which is run by the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation, conducted its first commercial run in 2008 and completed its 100th trip in November 2012. The train has managed to attract domestic travellers due to aggressive marketing. It registered 100 per cent occupancy on the 100th trip, with 75 per cent of the passengers being domestic travellers.

Encouraged by the success of ‘Palace on Wheels, RTDC and Indian Railways then introduced the ‘Royal Rajasthan on Wheels’. The super luxury train recently launched its journey for this year to Rajasthan and other destinations, especially for Khajuraho, Varanasi and Agra from New Delhi in October 2013. The train welcomed 26 passengers on the first journey. Sharma informed that a total of 3,286 tourists have made journey on this train in the 87 trips since 2008-2009, which translated into an earning of Rs. 48.82 crores.

Furthermore, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels has launched a new train with enhanced features. Speaking about this latest product, Surendra Singh Chaudhri, GM, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels said, “This new train will offer enhanced luxuries and facilities to the passengers. This luxury train package covers the most exotic destinations starting from New Delhi on Sunday covering Jodhpur-Udaipur-Chittorgarh-Sawai Madhopur-Jaipur-Khajuraho-Varanasi-Agra and back on Safdarjung Railway Station, New Delhi.”

Luxury trains, which offer services that can make the best hotels and airlines in the world pale in comparison, are the latest craze. The product has long been popular among domestic and inbound tourists in western countries, and is slowly gaining impetus in India too. The difference between luxury train tours and a regular journey is that one can experience several tourist spots in one go without compromising on comfort and lavishness. Such tours are now emerging as the new visage of extravagance in travel. Discerning Indians seek more relaxed and lavish journeys nowadays, and luxury trains are at the pinnacle of this aspiration.


The maharaja method of pure indulgence

Luxury trains evoke a strong sense of association as in history, heritage and decadence of a leisurely ride. Talking about the facilities that Indian luxury trains have to offer to their passengers, Gadre said, “Deccan Odyssey on-board services are handled by the team of professionals from Taj Group of Hotels. The train has 11 coaches for the accommodation of guests out of the 21 luxuriously appointed coaches. The elements like theme decoration in the cabins, four twin-bedded cabins, CD/MP3 player, cabins with attached bathrooms, and services for disabled guests are available to make the journey blissful for the passengers.”

Singh commented that Royal Rajasthan on Wheels will offer more luxuries and facilities to the passengers than Palace on Wheels. “The luxury train has 22 State of Art coaches comprising of one Super deluxe coach (two cabins), 13 deluxe coach (containing three cabins each), two Restro Bars (40 covers each), one Kitchen, two Staff cum Store Cars and two Power cars. The total capacity of the train is 82 pax.”

Over the years ‘Palace on Wheels’ has been very sensitive to each guest’s expectations. “We are now acting on it to give the incredible Palace on Wheels a refurbishment that should raise the richly royal looks to still greater heights. Very soon, the train will sport a new heritage look with the finest in luxury trappings, reflecting the exclusive lifestyle of maharajas. All facilities are being modernised including superior communication and entertainment. Even the dining cart, the bar and lounge will take on a wonderful new look with the planned refurbishment at a huge investment,” said Ajmera.

 
Indians love travelling aboard ‘Thomas’

Indian travellers have now realised that trains are a convenient mode of short, medium and long distance travel across any country. Western and central Europe has dense and widely used railway networks spanning the entire continent. For tourists covering short distances, trains prove to be faster, reliable and frequent. For longer distances, they can be preferable to flying for several reasons. Trains have more spacious and comfortable interiors, may offer scenic routes, and do not require long waits at security as is the case at airports.

Swiss Travel System AG has enjoyed two digit growth for STS products in India between January-September 2013. “We will be closing the year with a highest record ever for Swiss Travel System in 2013. These good results confirm the strong popularity and increasing demand for Switzerland by train. Indians are more and more educated on the advantages of travelling by fantastic public transportation around Switzerland, especially on a family trip,” said Fausto Zaina, Market Manager Asia Pacific, IMEA & South America, Swiss Travel System AG.

He added that the company has introduced special promotions in 2013 to create added value for the travellers and attract new Indians who are just starting to travel as FITs. “We work in full cooperation with Switzerland Tourism and our distributors, Rail Europe and their GSAs, to maintain dynamic and creative marketing. Fausto touted India as Swiss Travel System’s Number three market worldwide in terms of sales, just after the UK and USA. Speaking about new campaigns designed exclusively for the Indian travel trade market, Fausto informed that the company has launched a fantastic campaign this year: the ‘Swiss Pass Super Star’, a mix of training/incentive which will end with a mega FAM around Switzerland from next month.

The Canadian Rocky Mountaineer provides great experiences as it passes through the untouched Canadian hinterlands. On offer are over 45 Canadian vacation packages and four rail routes through British Columbia and Alberta. Considering the growth opportunity from India among the BRIC nations, Canadian Rocky Mountaineer is now being promoted here. “Rocky Mountaineer will be concentrating on pushing the Early Booking Bonus in the Indian market as the company believes that 2013 is poised for bigger and better numbers and this is an amazing offer to bring to the market in 2013,” said Ashish Saran, Group General Manager, Canadian Destinations Marketing, who represents the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada.

Targeting a robust growth in 2013 over 2012, Rocky Mountaineer will focus on developing the knowledge quotient of the Indian travel trade, strengthen its relationships and reach in tier –II and III cities and will create some offers for its clients in the Indian market place.

Puffing Billy Railway also received record passenger numbers for FY 2012-2013 with 285,536 passengers which is an increase of 16,808 (6.3 per cent). Nadine Hutchins, Marketing Manager, Puffing Billy Railway opined, “Booking trends have been going well. Approximately 60 per cent of passengers are from within Australia and 40 per cent are international. The largest international markets (in order) are China, Taiwan, Korea and the United Kingdom. India is picking up well and we see great potential in the market.”

Shane Roberts, Market Manager, Railtours Ireland, informed that booking trends from January – September 2013 have been as good, if not better, than the same period in 2012, with demand for extended/multi-day tours is on the increase. “Our largest feeder market is North America which accounts for between 75-80 per cent of all bookings received. Source markets have remained similar to that of previous years with the remaining 20 – 25 per cent of bookings (other than those mentioned above) coming from Europe (including Ireland), India, Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and South America. Demand for extended/multi-day tours is continuously increasing among Indians,” she said.

Swiss Travel System AG receives maximum business from the FIT’s hailing from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. “We work hard to develop knowledge and travel agents coverage in smaller cities/new areas, as this is where we can expect big growth. However, on some secondary cities, the challenge is that group travel is still very big and therefore less adapted to our products. We would need to wait some more time,” said Fausto, adding that the company is lucky the rupee depreciation did not impact too much during peak season (April-May-June) but started to become a real issue from the summer. “We are waiting now to see how sales perform until end of the year. Travellers may want to postpone a bit and stay around Asia/India for Diwali due to this situation, or eventually cut down on days in Switzerland.”

Puffing Billy Railway works with a select number of travel agents based in India as well as key Inbound Tourism Operators in Australia. For the Indian market the company focuses on the VFR market in Australia, as many Indian tourists visit family and friends in Melbourne.

According to Hutchins the rupee depreciation has not made a real difference to the business, “Since June 2013 we have seen record passenger numbers for July, August and September – so we are hoping this trend will continue. As for Puffing Billy Railway’s budget, we are a not for profit organisation that relies on the support of over 900 volunteers. We do not have a large marketing budget which is why we try and work closely with Tourism Australia and Tourism Victoria,” he stated.

Talking about the product offering Fausto said, “On a product level we have launched a new Swiss Peak Pass for 2014 which is an add-on product to the four and eight-day Swiss Pass. It costs EUR 24 in combination with the four-day Swiss Pass and EUR 49 in combination with the eight-day Swiss Pass and includes eight less known mountain excursions for free, such as Mt. Stanserhorn near Lucerne, or Rochers-de-Naye above Montreux.”

Hutchins commented that the Asian market is growing, and in relation to traveller’s demands, Indians are becoming more internet savvy and expect online booking facilities and free Wi-Fi. “We are currently in the process of implementing this for our Excursion Trains and hope to have it in place by June 2014,” he revealed. He added that they have introduced a Bollywood Spectacular Night Train.

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