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Why rail transport could be more important to your hotel’s future than you think

  Posted in Hotel Insights  Last updated 30/11/2023

The future of travel and tourism is a topic much discussed. And it’s one that often boils down to numbers. How many people will be travelling? How much money will be spent? And perhaps, most importantly, how will the industry accommodate and sustain an increase in travel?

With more guests and more hotels than ever in major destinations, the pressure placed on transport, both to and within desirable tourist locations will be significant.

Rail transport could be a valuable solution to growing tourism, speeding up commuter trips and offering more options for travellers and potential visitors to your hotel.

A glance at the future of travel

There are a lot of numbers to be thrown around when discussing travel in the future – and all of them are large. Take these figures for example:

  • The global population will draw near 10 billion by 2050
  • China’s travel bookings are already worth more than $100 billion
  • UNWTO forecasts an increase of 3.3% of international tourist arrivals year-on-year, culminating in almost two billion tourists travelling the world in 2030
  • By 2050, there will be nearly 200 times the number of tourists there were in 1950
  • In China, millions of new passports will be created with the number of middle class citizens rising to about 1.1 billion

Something has to give – or something must be done to prevent a literal bottleneck of travellers and tourists in the future. The solution could well be for rail transport to take a huge step forward.

Something has to give - or something must be done to prevent a literal bottleneck of travellers and tourists in the future

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The potential growth of rail transport

The signs are already there that rail is set to see huge growth in the future, and technologies are already being worked on to make that a reality.

Rail is already a prominent source of travel in Asia, and in Europe ticket sales to UK residents forecast to hit almost $4.7 billion (USD) in 2017. In this region there are already concerns about overcrowding in airspaces, the impacts of climate change on air travel, and increased pollution from congested roads, so rail is looking like an attractive investment.

In Europe, 12.6% of all outbound and domestic trips are made via rail, while this number is 27.4% in Asia. The statistics are much lower in the Americas (3.8%) as well as Africa and the Middle East (3.9%).

With only 2% of international tourism using rail networks, there is significant growth potential for railways, and its predicted more progress will be made in the sector over the next 15 years than in the last 100.

As global travellers demand faster and more sustainable travel options, there may be no other choice but to develop world-first rail systems.

5 ways rail can help future boost travel numbers

Money is a stumbling block when it comes to the development of new rail solutions, but that’s the case with many new technologies.

The long-term benefits should outweigh initial costs.

1. Rail transport is cleaner

Railway companies only account for 1.3% of total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the transport sector, while aviation makes up 12.4%, ships 12.7% and road transport 72.2%.

2. Rail transport can operate similar to airlines

Trains are ready for an online revolution, according to Expedia’s former CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. The company’s investment in SilverRail (which processes 25 million rail bookings per year) shows it believes in the virtues of integrating rail on its ‘flight-heavy’ platform. Better online accessibility will reduce the barrier to usage by travellers.

3. Rail transport is safer

In 2010, the US Department of Transportation conducted a study that found the number of people injured on the highways or motorways was 300 times higher than the number of casualties in railroad accidents. A similar study completed in Europe discovered 15 times more people were fatally wounded in car accidents than railway accidents in 2013.

With even better technology in place now, the incidents of train accidents will only decrease, while greater traffic congestions will push the rate of traffic accidents up.

4. Rail transport is more efficient overall

High-speed trains have been found to be eight times more efficient than commercial planes and four times more energy-efficient than cars over the same distance.

5. Rail transport can be run by Artificial Intelligence

Just as driverless cars exist, so to can driverless trains. Not only that, but scheduling and maintenance alerts can also be improved by computers.

Smart infrastructure and autonomous trains will soon be able to communicate with each other. This means sensors can transmit data to the right platforms as efficiently as possible.

A trackside computer could track all trains and calculate an appropriate movement for each train. As a result, trains could be routed continuously and run more efficiently than when driven manually on sight. On board the train, an Automatic Train Operation (ATO) system replaces the driver and controls the train’s speed. If passenger volume is high, additional trains could be deployed independently of the regular timetable.

Rail companies have already started to install smart sensors in their trains and on tracks, so they can react faster when problems arise. They will not only monitor the current health of rail infrastructure, but can predict wear and potential failures in advance, allowing for quicker repairs and preventing delays.

3 exciting rail technologies already being explored

There have been a lot of ideas in development for high-speed trains in the past and they’ve stuck around. These are the technologies we could see become a reality before too long.

1. Hyperloop

Hyperloop is the brainchild of Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla, and involves a sealed tube through which pods can travel without air friction, thereby able to travel 1,200 km per hour. Testing was previously done in 2017, with more happening this year. Hyperloop One is currently contracted to build the first connection between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and has proposed several other viable routes in Europe. One eye-catching route is between London and Edinburgh, via Birmingham and Manchester, which would take 50 minutes – compared with today’s four hours and 20 minutes.

2. Maglev

Maglev technology is, unsurprisingly, based on magnets. It would consist of a train levitating over its tracks and being propelled by magnetic power. The Shanghai Maglev has a top operational speed of 430 kph and average speed of 251 kph. However it was extremely expensive to build, costing $1.2 billion to run 30.5 kilometres. As technology developments, the price should go down while the distance goes up!

3. Hydrogen power

There are plenty of arguments for hydrogen power, namely that it presents an efficient and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. With a hydrogen powered train being tested in Germany and hydrogen fuel cells commissioned for a light rail in China, the future looks bright for this chemical power source.

This topic is one hotels should follow closely. It’s important you know how your potential guests are travelling and forming their habits and preferences. The more data you have about your market, the better you can predict their behaviour and create compelling purchase offers. For instance, if your hotel is set to be located close to a busy rail hub, take advantage of it with tailored promotions and offers.


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