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The Railroad to Recovery: COVID-19 recovery case studies. Part 1

Faced with the task of supporting tourism and transport industries through the COVID-19 recovery period, governments and industry bodies globally are developing strategies for a resilient and agile rail sector.

New Zealand utilises data to address COVID-19 response

Tourism New Zealand launched a webinar series addressing key issues facing industry at this time, including the events sector, domestic travel, the Australia-New Zealand ‘travel bubble’ and the use of online platforms. Accompanying this launch, the agency collected preliminary data on travel outside of passengers’ local tourism regions after the transition to Alert Level 2. This data found a 75% increase in national mobility during the week beginning 26-May-2020, compared to the week beginning 19-May-2020. While this indicates a strong basis of interest in domestic travel, significant projections for the travel season remain unclear due to the lack of historical data in these conditions. Additionally, Tourism NZ’s data for 2019 indicated 90% of domestic travel on average is via car, highlighting a need to increase the accessibility and attractiveness of rail.

 Source: Centre for Rail & Tourism New Zealand

Source: Centre for Rail & Tourism New Zealand

KiwiRail resumed its first major tourist service from 04-Jul-2020, the TranzAlpine service linking Christchurch with Greymouth in the West Coast region. The West Coast witnessed the most growth in Tourism NZ’s study by approximately 10%, with a 94.3% increase in visitors during the week of the public holiday. KiwiRail CEO Greg Miller stated the boost to West Coast economy was a priority, and that the Group is “urgently” exploring measures to make long distance services “more attractive, more diverse and more financially sustainable”. Mr Miller stated “we are confident we can serve the market at different levels”, for instance through the introduction of new classes on the Christchurch-Greymouth service. Mr Miller stated the Group “continues to assess demand” and as such will resume the service at a weekend and holiday timetable through to Sep-2020.

Europe starts to recover 

Similar strategies are visible across a number of markets; Snälltåget, a regional subsidiary of Transdev in Sweden, announced an expanded intercity schedule for the 2020-2021 Winter travel season. This includes new overnight services between Sweden, Denmark and the Alps region of Austria. These will be integrated with services to eight Austrian ski resorts, and are arranged with return trips one week after departure. 

In early Jun-2020, FS Italiane outlined its ‘national tourism development plan’ which features an updated Trenitalia Freccia HSR offering for the Summer travel season. This includes new daily connections from Milan and Rome to several popular cities on the Tuscan coastline, as well as links to smaller regional locations selected for “high cultural and scenic appeal”. In addition, the national tourism plan includes promotions such as ‘Summer Together’, offering flexible travel for a reduced price on select days, and a collaboration between Trenitalia and Ferrovie del Sud Est (FSE) to increase regional transport connectivity through integration with the bus network. FS Italiane and Trenitalia also announced a solution to combine Freccia and BluJet tickets, linking Sicily with the main HSR network.

Similarly, Deutsche Bahn launched its ‘Discover Germany’ campaign in collaboration with all 16 German federal states on 22-Jun-2020. In addition to a series of online and print advertisements scheduled to run until Sep-2020, the campaign condenses resources for the most popular locations within each region and integrates this with rail information. Tourismus Marketing Baden-Württemberg (TMBW) managing director Andreas Braun stated this level of cooperation between the railways and the states is unprecedented, and presents a framework for a long term strategy that is sustainable both from an economic and an environmental perspective. German Tourism Association managing director Norbert Kunz reiterated the importance of boosting rail transport in this critical time as “an important step towards sustainable travel”.

Deutsche Bahn stated approximately three million people are employed within the German tourism industry, the majority of which are in small to medium sized enterprises. This further emphasises the need for strategic integration of regional tourism, which is established within the framework of the ‘Discover Germany’ collaboration, and is echoed in KiwiRail and FS Italiane’s expanding offerings.

Recovery remains unclear, opportunities are present

Though the outcomes and timeline of the COVID-19 recovery season remain unclear, rail transport may have an opportunity across global markets to meet the varied and changing demands of these circumstances. The ability of the rail sector to integrate with other transport modes, modify services and cooperate with different levels of government emerge as key approaches across several markets. These factors, along with a sustainability advantage over both road and aviation, demonstrate an agility which may be necessary to maintain function within the severely disrupted wider industry and economy.

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