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2021’s Top Train Travel Trends Revealed

We’ve polished our crystal ball and asked ten train travel experts for their predictions of what’s in store for 2021

Holidaymakers are desperate to travel again and next year has been declared European Year of Rail 2021, so there’s lots to look forward to. As travellers demand more sustainable holidays and realise there’s so much choice on offer, from luxury rail experiences, multi-country or multi-city trips and rail and sail options, the future’s looking bright for railway travel. Here are the top predicted travel trends straight from the experts.

Strong desire to travel again

travel trends
We can’t wait to visit great capital cities like Barcelona again

Coronavirus may have stopped train travel in its tracks in 2020 but there’s a real desire to hit the rails again in 2021, according to Martyn Sumners, Executive Director of specialist travel association AITO.

‘According to our recent research*, the 50+ market is keen to travel again in 2021*, and 66% will be spending the same or more money on holiday travel than they did in 2019,’ he says.

‘City breaks top the list of most popular specialist interest holidays, and travellers are also keen to book escorted group tours including train holidays in 2021, to explore the history and culture of the destinations they visit.’

*The AITO Travel Tracker study, a survey of customers of AITO’s 200+ tour operator and travel agent members, with 29,000 responses received at regular intervals throughout the pandemic.

Big interest in sustainable train holidays 

travel trends
We’ll be ditching planes and travelling by train in 2021

According to leading travel association ABTA, environmental considerations will continue to be important for many holidaymakers who will increasingly look to the train to travel to their holiday destination if possible.

‘Over the past few years we have seen a green movement that advocates “no-fly” holidays and more sustainable ways of travel,’ says Nienke Geudeker, Communications Manager at Eurail. ‘So more people will consider train travel in 2021. The European Year of Rail in 2021 is also set promote railways as a sustainable, innovative and safe mode of transport.’

Julian Appleyard, Commercial Director at Great Rail Journeys, believes the trend for environmentally-friendly no-flight holidays is set to grow, saying his company’s customers have a growing awareness and appetite for sustainable travel, with greater consideration for the environmental impact of travel. ‘Not only does an escorted rail holiday offer a relaxed and immersive way to travel through the worlds’ best landscapes; it does so in a way that can be more environmentally friendly,’ he says. ‘Our latest research also suggests that people are increasingly wary travelling through airports, looking towards alternative modes of travel such as rail.’ Across the boars sustainability is one of the top travel trends.

More demand for train travel

travel trends
There will be a big demand in 2021 to travel by train

Being stuck at home for most of 2020, we’ve all been dreaming of travelling more in 2021 and for many the allure of train travel, whether you’re a seasoned railway fan or fancy something new, is strong.

‘More people than ever before will choose to travel by train in 2021 as part of their holiday experience,’ says Anna Davies, Sales and Marketing Manager at Railbookers. ‘We know that 85% of customers that booked with our company this year are new to us so the demand for independent, customised, flexible holidays using trains to get around will continue to grow.’

This sentiment is echoed by Maria Cook, General Manager at Festiniog Travel who says, ‘we’re seeing good forward bookings and an increase in demand as more people want to travel by train.’

This prediction is backed up by ABTA. A spokesperson at the company, which represents Britain’s leading travel agents, told us that 6% of respondents to ABTA’s annual consumer survey ‘Holiday Habits’ indicated that they intended to take a train-based holiday in 2021. So potentially millions of holidaymakers will be taking the train for a break next year.

More spontaneous bookings

Who wouldn’t want to book a trip to Paris this week?

Uncertainty because of the coronavirus crisis will lead travellers to book their holidays far later in the day or even at the last minute.

‘Whether train travellers are looking to plan a holiday in Europe, the UK or further afield, we envision trips to be booked a lost closer to the date of departure as there is still so much uncertainty around travel, says Julian Appleyard.

This trend looks to carry on throughout Europe too according to Nienke Geudeker. ‘Travellers will not book their holidays months ahead but rather wait until the last minute to plan and book a trip and there will be a clear demand for travel products,’ she predicts. Train travel is perfect for this, she says, because it allows for more spontaneous travel as tickets in most cases don’t need to be booked long ahead.

Holidaying closer to home

Train trips closer to home to counties like Yorkshire will be popular

Travelling abroad this year has been a logistical nightmare so it’s not surprising that holidaymakers have taken a closer look at destinations nearby. All the top British train travel agents have reported more sales in the UK than ever before and a renewed interest in European destinations too.

‘Choosing to travel by rail closer to home will be one of 2021’s biggest trends’ says Guy Saunders, Managing Director at Planet Rail. As we celebrate the European Year of Rail 2021, more people will look to travel by rail nearer home, he predicts.  

‘Our research tells us that Europe is still very much top of the agenda for holiday-goers in 2021,’ adds Julian Appleyard, ‘with destinations such as Italy and Switzerland proving to be the most popular. Staycations have seen a particularly strong up-lift in 2020 and we predict this trend to continue into 2021 with Scotland, Yorkshire and North Wales topping the wish list.’

Meanwhile fellow train travel expert Simon Hodge, Managing Director of Tailor Made Rail, believes holidaymakers will want to travel across fewer countries to minimise the risk of holiday disruption, particularly in the earlier part of the year before a thorough vaccine rollout.

A focus on destinations closer to home is good news for David Pitts, owner of luxury British train line Northern Belle, who predicts that in 2021 many people will be looking to travel around Britain. ‘I suspect many folk will want to make up for missed time over this past year since the lockdowns started,’ he says, ‘and taking a day trip on a British train is a good start.’ British rail holidays are one of our favourite travel trends.

Bucket-list trips are big news

Tick off your bucket-list with a journey on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

One thing 2020 has given us is the chance to dream big about our next rail adventure. So once-in-a-lifetime trips on dream trains like the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Ghan in Australia will be very popular in 2021.

‘Luxury rail journeys will increase in popularity,’ predicts Anna Davies. ‘There are so many incredible luxury rail trips to enjoy worldwide and customers want to treat themselves to something a little extra special in 2021.

And it’s not just the iconic European trains that are in demand. ‘We have seen continued demand for the wonderful Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and adventurous travellers are looking at the fabulous Andean Explorer in Peru,’ says Guy Saunders.

Big demand for scenic routes

travel trends
The Rocky Mountaineer offers awesome views

Whether it’s been taking your dog for a walk each day or having a regular zoom chat with your mum, one thing the covid crisis has given us, is a glimpse of what our lives could be like if we slowed down. Some of the world’s most picturesque train journeys might not be the fastest way to travel from A to B. But boy, check out the view… According to the experts in 2021 we’ll all be looking for a carriage with a view.

After spending a lot of 2020 in lockdown, Ben Davis, Head of Product at Titan Travel expects scenic train tours, such as the Rocky Mountaineer or journeys through the scenic Swiss mountains on trains like the Glacier Express to be one of the top travel trends in 2021. ‘These nature-inspired train journeys offer travellers a front row seat to striking landscapes across the world,’ he says.

Night trains back in fashion

More travellers will be travelling by sleeper services in 2021

Sleeper services, which transport you overnight between major destinations, have had a bad rap in the past but even during this covid-blighted year, many of the top train companies have announced plans for new overnight launches and routes.

The first new Nightjet route, launching in December 2021, will link Paris, Vienna and Munich. At the same time, Amsterdam and Zurich and Amsterdam will get a new overnight link, with a stop at Cologne. The new routes will link to the Eurostar in Paris and Amsterdam. And from December 2022, you’ll be able to catch another new Nightjet night train from Zurich to Rome.  

‘Many European carriers have been expanding their international and night train network in the past two years,’ says Nienke Geudeker. ‘The demand for more modern overnight trains is there and even during the pandemic new connections have been announced for the coming years.’

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