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Why rail travel is back on track

It’s been a long time coming but rail travel is back on track. Boris’ roadmap has given us a framework to plan our trips. And leading figures in the British rail travel industry are starting to see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And even better, railway travellers have already booked trips for 2021. Vicky Mayer discovers why luxury trains and bucket-list destinations are top of our wish lists.

We can’t get enough of luxury trains

Who wouldn’t want to travel in style on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express?

Many of us haven’t boarded a train since before March 2020 so it comes as no surprise that our first choice of rail holiday is a luxurious treat.

‘We have seen an increase in enquiries and bookings for “trips of a lifetime”, especially the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from London to Venice,’ reveals Guy Saunders, Managing Director of Planet Rail.

‘Our customers are saying that they’ve realised that life is too short. And you have to seize the moment while you can and enjoy these unique experiences.’

This trend resonates with British luxury heritage train operator Northern Belle too. ‘The rapid roll-out of the Covid vaccine has been a shot in the arm for the whole heritage train industry,’ says owner David Pitts. ‘And ticket sales have soared since since the Prime Minister revealed his road map.

‘We know the British public are desperate to get out again so we have quickly arranged lots of new train trips to cope with the demand.’

‘Our ticket sales hit the buffers last year, crashing from 17,145 in 2019 to just 3,525 in 2020. But the vaccine has helped restore confidence and by the end of January we’d had 8,433 bookings with nearly 2,000 more in February.’ 

‘Luxury rail journeys are driving many of our enquiries and bookings,’ adds Anna Davies, Sales and Marketing Manager at Railbookers. ‘We are seeing customers wanting to treat themselves to something a little extra special. Many still want to celebrate a missed occasion from last year.’

We’re booking nearer home

Treat yourself to a rail holiday in spectacular Switzerland

In Titan Travel’s recent Travel Trends report, one of the key findings was the popularity of short haul destinations for our next trips. These include rail holidays in the UK and Europe.

‘Rail holidays in Britain this year are proving to be really popular,’ says Dave Felstead, Managing Director of Railtrail Tours.

‘Classic destinations like Switzerland and Italy are really popular,’ adds Anna Davies. ‘Our customers are also booking rail holidays to Scotland and the Highlands on trains like the Jacobite Steam Train.’

Flexible holidays and expert advice are important

Use a trusted travel agent to book your next rail trip

Booking a rail holiday with a trusted, knowledgeable rail travel specialist has always been a good idea. But this is especially true this year and the next. Not only will they guide you through any last minute Covid upsets, but their flexible booking options are a godsend too.

‘The demand for our independent, customised, flexible holidays has continued to grow in the last few weeks,’ reveals Railbookers’ Anna Davies. ‘And new bookings are accounting for almost 90% of our sales.’  

‘We anticipate bookings to continue to rise as restrictions lift from March,’ adds Andy Squirrell, Managing Director of Titan Travel. ‘And we recommend travellers looking to book a holiday do so with a trusted travel agent where their holiday and money will be protected.’

We’ve booked for 2021!

Philip and Marilyn Wilkes, from Wolverhampton

Philip and Marilyn are heading to South Africa later this year

‘A couple of years ago we visited Canada on a work trip and had the opportunity to journey on the Rocky Mountaineer. After this incredible experience, we’ve become more and more interested in train-based holidays.

‘We were hoping to visit South Africa with Great Rail Journeys last year, but due to the pandemic we were unable to travel. So we have re-booked the holiday for later this year and we are very excited to be able to travel once again.

Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa is a great bucket-list train

‘We have booked onto the ROVOS Rail’s Pride of Africa train. This will be our sixth trip to South Africa with Great Rail Journeys and each tour has been amazing. The Pride of Africa is one of our favourite trains.

‘It oozes luxury and glamour and the food and drink on board is exceptional. We like the feeling of stepping back in time when travelling on this train and dressing up for dinner makes the whole experience feel even more special. It also provides such a unique opportunity to spot the incredible wildlife available as well.’

Sharon Noble-King, from Coventry

Sharon loves taking day trips on the luxurious Northern Belle train

‘I’ve already booked four new trips on the Northern Belle for this year including a trip to Weymouth in July for the Dorset Seafood Festival and a Christmas lunch in December.

‘I’ve been hooked since I first took a trip on it seven years ago. I love everything about the train: the luxurious surroundings; the amazing staff; the champagne and the scrumptious food. And of course, it’s always an opportunity to dress up in my best frock.

‘A ticket for a trip on the Northern Belle is not cheap but after the Covid crisis, it’s time to spend some of our hard-earned money. And this is a great way to splash out. If I had the chance, I’d take a trip on the train every week – I absolutely adore it!’

Ray and Vera Cox, from Bournemouth

Ray and Vera have booked an adventurous trip to Morocco this year

‘We decided to book a train trip with Ffestiniog Travel for later this year because we can’t wait to get back on the rails again. We’ve booked a great train trip to Morocco in November. We thought by then we’ll be safe to travel. We’re looking forward to travelling abroad again and enjoying some sunshine. We haven’t travelled to Morocco since 1977 so it will be interesting to see if and how it’s changed.’