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Travel agents have proven vital to the success of Rocky Mountaineer, so much so that the luxury Canadian rail tour operator recently launched a training program to help agents better sell what is often a misunderstood mode of travel.
Executives with Rocky Mountaineer, which operates four rail routes through Canada, estimate that about 80 percent of all travelers on their tours book via agents across the world.
But there is still room for improvement, with knowledge of the Canadian Rockies and the specifics of train travel often lacking among even expert travel advisors, according to Karen Hardie, vice president of global sales for Rocky Mountaineer.
A vacation by train is not something that pops into the heads of many travelers at first, she noted. This is especially true of the company’s target audience: those who often take river and ocean cruises in Europe and Alaska.
Because of that, Rocky Mountaineer determined the best way to educate agents and reach potential travelers was through a homegrown education program filled with photos, videos and information about its unique train experiences.
“People have a certain perspective of what train travel is about, and that perception is very personal to their experiences and anecdotes,” Hardie said.
Misperceptions About Rail Vacations
For people on the East Coast, the common perspective is shaped by commuting via rail, while those in Europe often have misperceptions as well, Hardie said.
“We found that agents who are using it to help understand what a luxury rail experience in Western Canada is really are surprised,” she said. “You don’t sleep on the Rocky Mountaineer. It’s an all daylight experience. You overnight in hotels.”
Since the company launched the TRACKS agent training program in October, more than 2,000 agents have registered for it.
“That is far beyond our expectations in a short period of time,” Hardie said. “We have been really thrilled.”
The training program consists of five modules and takes about an hour to complete.
Agents who complete the program by the end of 2018 will be eligible for a raffle for two, two-day tickets on the Rocky Mountaineer.
“In the 29 years we have been in service, the foundation of our business globally has been through the travel industry trade partners” Hardie said.
Commissions Tier Up
While Hardie said Rocky Mountaineer offers a competitive commission rate for bookings, she declined to divulge the exact numbers.
“For our partners, it definitely tiers up based on performance,” she said.
Rocky Mountaineer offers 65 packages along four rail lines that travel through British Columbia, Alberta and the Pacific Northwest.
The goal of the train trips is to give travelers an experience of the wild beauty of the Canadian West.
Surprisingly, when the company launched 29 years ago, the strongest inbound market was from Australia, Hardie said. Since then, Australia has remained strong, but the company has been focusing on growing its customer base in the U.S.
The goal of the outreach program is to inform guests of the unique form of travel that includes trains that chug along at just 30 miles per hour and feature cabins with glass dome roofs.
“I think there’s a danger sometimes in training programs that you want to, as the supplier, provide all the stuff you want everyone to know,” Hardie said. “I would say the approach that the team took in building this particular program was around how to make the information interesting, engaging, consumable, memorable and useful at the end of the day.”