Luxury rail travel is more about the journey than getting to a destination
WHILE this sector has predictably experienced a downturn, it had, like cruise travel, been picking up momentum over the last few years, with new routes and trains appearing worldwide but particularly in India, Asia, Africa and Europe.
Benefits of luxury rail travel include privacy, excellent service and lots of luxurious pampering, plus going by rail is a greener travel option. As in the cruise industry, there is also a growing population of fitter, older people with more time and more money to take these journeys.
Business will soon be back on track according to Simon Pielow of Train Chartering based in Wiltshire UK. His business was affected initially, for two main reasons, “The obvious one – there is less disposable income around, and secondly, perhaps less obvious, is a feeling that enjoying luxury is slightly inappropriate at the moment.”
“Luckily these two issues will diminish in importance and the benefits of private rail cars and private trains will become more apparent,” he said. “The Middle East is an area we will be targeting much more in the future, especially as rail travel is on the planning agenda throughout the region,” he said.
Train travel in general recorded an increase in popularity from early 2008 according to the ITB World Travel Trends Report.
Marketing and sales manager Rovos Rail Tours Estee Badenhorst said that they had been “seriously affected” by the global recession but were fortunate not to have had to downscale operations in a major way or to retrench staff. “Our overall turnover is down by approximately 40 per cent to date, versus the same time in 2008.”
“We are starting to see some improvement in bookings from 2009 year-end onwards and are hopeful that this signifies the turn in the luxury train travel sector of the market,” she said.
Many luxury train companies from all over the world opt to join the Luxury Train Club, which provides customers information about rail travel ideas and trends. Luxury Train Online is another useful source – it is a travel guide for luxury train tours all around the world. Rail companies including Royal Scotsman, Orient Express Trains, the Blue Train, Trans-Siberian Express Company, Al Andalus Express, Royal Canadian Pacific and The Blue Train are represented with their destinations and tours.
Spectacular luxury journeys include the Glacier Express in Switzerland, considered to be one of the most beautiful yet slowest train journeys in the world. The name Venice Simplon-Orient-Express instantly associates one with mystery novels and films, and there are many options across Europe.
Possibly the best way to see India is from the comfort of a luxury train, and the country has many – the Palace on Wheels is the oldest and most popular, with the Maharajas’ Express being India’s newest and on schedule to start its first commercial run on January 9, 2010. The Maharaja’s Express has 23 coaches including a presidential suite.
Steam enthusiasts will enjoy trips down memory lane on Rovos Rail, South Africa, and day-trips on the vintage steam engine Cathedral Express taking in England’s most beautiful Cathedral cities. Another steam locomotive journey is on the West Highland Line in Scotland from Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig via Rannoch Moor – part of the journey goes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct which has appeared in Harry Potter films.
Another South African luxury train the Blue Train is offering four nights for free in 2010, available from Luxury Trains and Somak Holidays, the first journey taking off on April 15.
The longest train journey (and possibly the coldest) in the world is the Trans Siberian Railway of Russia, Mongolia and China, which has three main routes. The next 19-day Moscow to Vladivostok from onthegotours.com starts on January 11, 2010.
by Cheryl Mandy
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