Rail high on the agenda at this year’s WTCE

08 Feb 2018

Rail travel around the world is on the increase. According to the sixth UNIFE World Rail Market study, the global rail market hit a new peak close to 160 billion euros in 2015 and is forecast to reach 185 billion euros by 2021. Asia Pacific and Western Europe are the biggest regional markets, accounting for a combined 58% of the world market while in Britain alone, 1.73 billion train journeys were made from 2016 to 2017, representing an increase of 14 million (0.8%) from 2015 to 2016.

Experts predict that urban transport will demonstrate the most significant growth rates, however, regional and long-distance travel figures will also remain strong. Megatrends like population growth and increasing urbanisation will fuel this demand, along with changing consumer mobility preferences driven by environmental and safety concerns, meaning rail travel is expected to soar in popularity in coming years.

Rail operators have made major improvements to their onboard offerings in recent years, making this mode of transport significantly more attractive to passengers than in the past. Not only are trains becoming more reliable, cost-efficient and eco-friendly than ever before, but they also represent a simpler and more comfortable option than in days gone by. Improvements to the passenger experience – particularly in terms of catering and access to onboard services such as WiFi – across the majority of rail operators, mean more often than not, passengers are actively choosing to travel by train rather than any other type of transport.

This represents a major shift in consumer mindset compared with a few years ago, when the rail industry appeared to be in slow decline. So how have rail operators turned the situation around? While a huge amount has been done to improve the image of the rail sector as a whole, one area that has undergone a huge transformation in recent years is onboard catering – across both short and long distance journeys. But with so much choice when it comes to food and drink options, how can rail operators ensure they are delivering exactly what passengers want?

Last year, Roger Williams, Chairman of the International Rail Catering Group (IRCG), attended the World Travel Catering & Onboard Services Expo (WTCE) in Hamburg to meet with current and potential members, discuss and promote the importance of rail catering for the passenger experience, as well as showcase the association’s services and increase industry engagement. We spoke to him to find out how the event has helped both the association and its members, what’s new in rail catering and services and what we can expect to see at the show in April.

How has business progressed in the past 12 months?
Rail passenger growth across Europe is on the rise, as more customers appreciate the ease of train travel from city centre to city centre compared to other transport modes. Rail companies have benefited from this growth and are now seeing the clear correlation between great onboard service and sustained improvements in customer satisfaction ratings. This is especially important for franchisee rail companies, as they are under pressure to get good customer ratings to retain and grow their franchises. With the help of IRCG’s members, these specialist onboard and catering services are being delivered with greater consistency and quality.

What do you see as future catering and hospitality trends impacting the travel industry, specifically to rail?
Demand is increasing for a combination of best-selling branded products with local provenance, as well as the endorsement of celebrity chefs, to attract customers and underline the quality of the offer to make it more dynamic. Increased use of social media while travelling is impacting how operators receive feedback on passenger satisfaction and is helping harvest big data about behaviour patterns and preferences. The focus on developing environmentally sustainable innovation is also important to both the rail industry and its customers.

Across the world, new high-speed railways and train investment is relentless, helping rail win an increased share of middle and short haul volumes. Meanwhile, feedback from rail passengers demonstrates there is a significant opportunity to provide catering that sets rail apart from other styles of travel. This means that to succeed, product suppliers really must understand the needs of the sector and work to provide the solutions that will help caterers and operators continue to grow in today’s competitive environment.

The IRCG will be returning to the Hamburg Messe for the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo (WTCE) this April. How important is it for the IRCG to use such opportunities to network with the wider travel industry?
The IRCG is the international networking body for railway companies and independent hospitality, catering and service providers. We are always seeking to widen membership and improve industry engagement, especially in the discussion around why catering and hospitality services are so important to increasing rail customer satisfaction and loyalty. Our attendance at WTCE in 2017 provided a further platform for communicating this message across a broad spectrum of suppliers, clients and innovators.

Our strategy is to expand our presence at trade exhibitions and we believe that WTCE is a great fit for our industry sector. It is an important showcase for the latest innovations in services, products, technology and equipment in the travel catering and hospitality industry all under one roof. As such it attracts a wide variety of visitors from the industry with whom we can engage, and this in turn helps build on our client, supplier and service partner relationships.

What will the IRCG be showcasing at the show?
The IRCG’s appearance at WTCE 2018 is part of an ongoing programme of member activities which has been chosen to maximise engagement with our industry and promote the benefits of rail catering as a customer attraction. This includes building on the important relationships with product and equipment suppliers who are present and exhibiting at WTCE, and to help them understand and meet the needs of supplying the travel industry.

We invite all our members to attend and many will join us from across Europe, Africa and the USA. While at the show, we invite product manufacturers and service providers who are established in the rail catering and hospitality market to apply for membership, the details of which will be available from our stand (2C30) which will be our main point of contact at the show where visitors can meet members and discuss business and explore opportunities.

What current or future trends, specific to the rail industry, can visitors learn about?
Two companies which are members of IRCG will also be presenting at the Taste of Travel Theatre at WTCE 2018.

Firstly, Jan Valeš and Martin Janura of JLV, one of Europe’s oldest catering companies together with Miroslav Kubec, President of the Association of Chefs of the Czech Republic and creator of seasonal menus for Czech Railways, will present the award-winning gastronomy offered to train passengers across Central Europe, complete with menu sampling using the Retigo combi oven, specifically modified for railway catering.

This will be followed by a presentation by RG, the UK’s leading rail catering specialist, with Jenny Greenhaulgh, RG’s Executive Chef, who will reveal the secrets of James Martin’s All-Day Menu for Virgin East Coast. This session will be introduced by RG’s CEO Beat Ehlers.

Each company will provide a unique insight into their rail catering offering and how they have gone about developing specific food and branded service offers.

Leading rail operators confirmed to attend WTCE
In 2017, WTCE welcomed senior delegates from leading rail operators including Amtrak, Czech Railways, East Midlands Trains and Virgin Trains, as well as rail caterers. This year, thanks to a host of expanded features, the event is hoping to attract even more with attendees from Eurostar, OBB (Austrian Federal Railways), RG, DB, DSB, Railrest and Restaurail already confirmed to attend.

A designated Rail Trail, made up of companies with a specific interest in the onboard rail sector, will lead interested operators to these specific businesses, including Kaelis On Board Services, BestPartner Food, En Route International, The Bake Factory and August Lundh, a Swedish supplier offering high-quality galley and catering equipment designed for the travel catering industry.

Elsewhere, the popular New Exhibitor Villages will be revamped and expanded, with four zones dedicated to first-time exhibitors. These areas introduce rail operators to companies, among others, that have never before been showcased at the event. Also giving airtime to brand new products will be the WTCE What’s New Onboard that will feature products and innovations launched to the market in the past 12 months or less.

Networking will also play a key role at the show, with The WTCE Business Meeting Hub providing a dedicated place for attendees to hold meetings with key clients. VIP rail attendees will have priority booking for the new hub which is located in Hall A2 and offers the perfect place to do business at the show. Also aiding relationship building is the improved My Event tool, which allows attendees to plan ahead of the show in April by flagging key exhibitors to visit or Taste of Travel sessions to attend. Both visitors and exhibitors can explore a full list of participating companies and attendees, to establish contact and pre-arrange meetings to improve efficiency and maximise time spent at the show in Hamburg.

WTCE remains the number one event for buyers from the world’s international, regional and rail operators, as well as airlines, cruise and coach companies. It also offers a unique platform to see the newest products and innovations, benefit from expert insight and advice and network with peers.

For more information or to register to attend, visit www.worldtravelcateringexpo.com

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