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Rail travel likely to boom post COVID-19

Rail travel likely to boom post COVID-19
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Written by Harry S. Johnson

International rail travel offers an ‘environmentally friendly’ alternative to flying and as the second wave of COVID-19 approaches, it may experience a boom post-pandemic.

Tourists are likely to favor destinations closer to home due to fears of flying and ever-changing restrictions on international travel.

Consequently, rail travel is likely to benefit – although it is highly unlikely that it will surpass air travel in terms of international travel.

According to the latest global survey, 48% of respondents said that reducing their environmental footprint is now more important than prior to this pandemic and 37% declared that this is as important as before. Traveling by rail is a more environmentally friendly form of transport and thus may persuade individuals to opt for this mode over air travel.

Prior to COVID-19, the environmental impacts of tourism were already under intense scrutiny. The ‘flygskam’ (flight shame) movement was gathering traction across Europe as individuals were being criticized for neglecting the impact that flying can have on the environment.

As countries have introduced stringent lockdown restrictions to battle the pandemic, travelers have been made more aware of the detrimental impacts travel can have on a destination and therefore, environmental concerns are likely to be a key consideration in future travel booking.

News about a brand’s sustainability initiatives is now desired by tourists. The survey identified that 36% of global respondents wanted to receive information/news regarding a brand’s sustainability initiatives. In comparison, an earlier survey conducted in March 2020 showed this was 34%.

For global domestic tourism, rail travel has long topped that of air travel. In 2019, 2.1 billion trips were taken by rail compared to just over 1 billion by air. International travel on the other hand is strikingly different as just 41 million international departures were taken by rail in 2019 compared to 735 million by air.

Air travel can be easy, efficient and generally costs less for travelers in comparison to rail. However, there have been notable wins for rail over short haul aviation over the years. The Eurostar’s cross-channel route more than halved air travel demand between London and Paris for example. Rail ultimately offers an efficient ‘middle ground’ between flying and slow travel by sea.

Going into 2021 and still with no global vaccine available, many travelers are likely to holiday closer to home rather than risk venturing to international destinations and facing local restrictions or an extensive quarantine.

As has been the case in China where COVID-19 first originated, both domestic and regional tourism were the first to benefit, and this should play into the hands of rail operators.