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RAIL

INSIGHT

STAY ON TRACK Rail specialist Raj Sachdave of Black Box Partnerships outlines the latest train travel trends

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s lockdowns ease and domestic business travel resumes, train travel is widely tipped to play a bigger part in many corporate travel programmes, and rightly so. Here are some of the major trends and issues that travel buyers should be aware of.

Let’s get digital

Way before the pandemic there was a shift to digitisation within UK rail, in some ways playing catch up with the rest of the world. When I say digital, I don't mean simply moving away from those orange tickets, it’s about the use of information pre, during and post rail travel in equal measure. Information, such as how busy is my train or station, where to stand on platforms and information on assurance and performance, are all there to be utilised and integrated into the business traveller experience. Meanwhile the rollout of eTickets across the rail network has been supercharged, although some of the basics still need attention. For one, the ability to validate the ‘scanning’ of an eTicket is a must for Duty of Care and for agencies to be able to perform support functions such as automated refunds.

Happy customers

All operators have DfT oversight under new commercial arrangements that came into play from 2020. This means operators will need to measure and illustrate customer satisfaction in order to ‘qualify’ for points to climb the ladder - and we all know what points mean, right? Furthermore, many agencies have been capturing NPS and customer satisfaction scores and interacting with organisations on traveller sentiment whilst on the move, so there’s an opportunity to define how to collaborate with operators in a more structured fashion. Look out for 'Wavelength', which is the DfTapproved, industry-wide satisfaction framework.

60 million and counting

That’s the number of fare and journey combinations in the UK alone. Yikes, no wonder UK rail is confusing. The industry is getting poised to look at rail fares and pricing (including the headache of split ticketing) through a formal consultation. We should all be getting ready to add our views and insight. Be vocal. For years, both corporates and TMCs have been frustrated about why flexibility comes at a super high

premium, and why buying the most expensive rail fare doesn’t even guarantee a seat. These are challenges that need to be resolved once and for all. Inventory technology for rail has been upgraded and there are a number of opportunities to move distribution to a more personalised framework, ensuring more relevant fares, pricing and business traveller products.

All the ‘ilities’

Rail is a posterchild not just for sustainability but also for productivity, suitability, accessibility and flexibility. Rebuilding travel volumes both by profile and spend is happening with carbon neutrality at its core. This is great news, so let’s not get seduced by other modes of transport that may give the impression of feeling safer or giving you bonus points. Rail oozes confidence and assurances that other modes cannot offer consistently. Measuring the ROI of travel is a hot topic and the threshold to travel needs to be validated with rigour. Rail is a smart choice that can be measured with ease and fewer touchpoints. Let’s move to a deeper conversation.

Death of the commute

We all love routine, right, but not Monday to Friday. Believe it or not, this isn’t a pandemic phenomenon. Back in 2018, with commuter traffic falling, the rail industry stood back to reflect. Movement of staff to home based or virtual has long been a strategy for many organisations as they evaluate the ‘seat cost’ of their office space. Technology and cloud-based services mean you can work from anywhere, so why the need to commute daily on a full-fat season ticket? There isn’t! With many employers now switching contracts to home based comes an opportunity to aggregate business commuter spend with rail spend. Have a holistic discussion with your TMC and operators to ensure there’s a smarter customer experience and service on offer.

Raj Sachdave is Managing Partner of Black Box Partnerships, a specialist consultancy that creates a value-driven approach in travel through smarter and faster exploitation of technology and supplier partnerships.

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