Adjusting perception

Because South Africa does not have products like Eurail, Eurostar, Swiss Glacier Express, Perurail, or any high-speed or night trains, it can be difficult for travellers to understand the value behind these transport models. Sue van Winsen reports.

Travellers are often encouraged to book short rail experiences in-destination, but don’t realise that in doing so, they may very well be doing themselves a disservice.

Many travellers book rail experiences and journeys once they are already abroad, says Nicolette Harrop, assistant manager of World Travel. “This may be due to the perception that booking rail locally may be cheaper, which is certainly not the case and, secondly, when travellers are abroad, they see how easy and accessible rail is and then decide to book.”

Inge Dobihal, md of Austria Connection, says the biggest obstacle is that travellers are not aware that in many cities in Europe, having a car is more of a burden than a pleasure.

“The old towns in many cities are completely closed to cars, parking in nearby areas is difficult to find and restricted mostly to short periods and places for longer-term parking are extremely expensive so, to get from city to city, it is much better to travel by train,” Dobihal says.

According to Harrop, there should be more education about rail products so that travel consultants and travellers will feel more comfortable booking their trips before departing South Africa.

According to Annemarie Lexow, sales and marketing manager at Travel Vision, the fact that South Africa does not have product like Eurail, Eurostar, Swiss Glacier Express, Perurail, or any high-speed or night trains, makes it difficult for travel consultants and travellers to understand, and therefore book before departure. “We have luxury trains, but then people’s perception is that it is very expensive and not catering for the local market,” says Lexow.

She admits, though, that the train networks in Europe especially can be complex. “But there are suppliers who are able to assist should consultants or travellers need help,” Lexow says.

Europe still tops

Europe continues to be the most popular continent for rail travel, say local tour operators. Dobihal says of the countries she deals with, Austria, Czech Republic and Poland are the best ones to explore by train.  

According to Harrop, Switzerland is among the top destinations to recommend for rail travel. “The Swiss Rail Pass gives travellers access to rail, lake steamers, postal buses and city transportation lines – all synchronised for easy connections. Also, children under 12 travel free when with an adult on the Swiss Family Card,” she says.

Harrop adds: “France and Italy are certainly among the popular destinations, although travelling by train to any of the 15 000 destinations in Europe is effortless – you can explore up to 28 countries with a Eurail Pass.”

She adds that a pass gives travellers the ability to move freely around different countries, jumping on and off national train networks. “Rail gives travellers the option to plan your itinerary to suit their every need,” she says.