You are hopefully aware that from 19 April over a million advanced, off-peak tickets are being offered at discounts of up to 50% on eligible journeys across many but not all routes for single journeys made between 25 April and 27 May 2022. Most but not all train operators are participation, some with slightly differing terms and conditions.
Since the public launch on 19th April the offer has been given some good one-off coverage in most mainstream national and some regional channels and is heavily promoted in the train operating company websites, social media channels and most (all?) ticket sales platform. The stated aim of the national initiative, as I read it, is to encourage the return to rail travel. On that basis it probably right to focus the promotion towards existing rail users and towards rail specific channels that those users are, or would previously be linked into, rather than trying to generate additional promotion through other associated routes to market, like destination marketing?
I was personally taken unaware by the announcement. Having got over my initial embarrassment about that on 19 April I have since struggled to find others in similar positions who were aware before the event. I am also now struggling to find any significant reference to the Great British Rail Sale in any specific non-rail tourism or destination based promotional activity, at any level. I now suspect the two are not unrelated?
If I am right and the potential opportunity to piggyback on this offer hasn’t been taken, presumable because there was insufficient warning or knowledge of it, then we might be well advised to jointly evidence that and then make that known in the right places. In normal circumstance I would be concerned. However, following Great British Railways’ recent “industry consultation”, recommendations on the 5-10-30 year strategic direction for rail in the UK, and critically for tourism and leisure, the future priorities within that for different usages are being worked up, for presentation and consideration by HMG later in the year. It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that future of UK rail and leisure rail travel’s part within it, is now at a critical juncture and will be for much of the rest of this year.
It might not happen but it would be a disaster, if for want of a little effort now, the tourism industry’s apparent lack of proactive engagement in a major national off-peak, essentially therefore leisure travel promotion, was somehow misconstrued, either by those formulating recommendations, or as importantly, by those who will soon consider and pronounce on them. Once set, the strategy will have profound implications for the means and ease of travel (by any means) around the UK and by default the prospects for tourism in a rapidly changing environment for all forms of public and private transport.
My premise is that had the UK tourism industry had a little more warning of an off-peak offer (albeit for a short should month period) some or all destinations would have considered using it as a tool to generate greater awareness of rail as a travel option and directly increase sales among existing and new leisure rail users.
The first stage is to ask as many of you as possible to confirm or deny that: you were or were not aware, that you have or have not promoted the availability of the offers? If you didn’t promote it why and/or what would have helped you do so? If timelines are a factor, then an indication of what realistic advance warning looks like would also be useful. In fairness to all, if you couldn’t or wouldn’t have been able to exploit this, or a similar offer in future, then please indicate that and why. In this way I will then have something more than just my instincts to act on.
Given that there is still just under a month for the offer to run it is conceivable that some destination may still have the opportunity to do something via social media and other more flexible, less time sensitive channels? If that is an opportunity you are already pursuing or will now (as a consequence of my note?) consider, then please let me know, as that would strength the case I will hope to make.
If my assessment is correct and I can evidence that we didn’t jointly know or know in enough time, then I will make sure that is sufficiently widely known. I should stress that I am already aware that presenting this as a potential criticism of a very welcome initiative would be totally counterproductive. The intended approach would be: “great initiative, we fully understand why advanced warning couldn’t be given in the circumstance, however, just wanted to make it clear that given x to y warning, some/many/all destinations that are well-served by rail would in future jointly or separately add the following value”.
I am also viewing this as a welcome potential opportunity to reiterate to those that need to hear it, the critical importance of rail to leisure and tourism and mutual future opportunities for growth in both, if the rail strategy is correctly framed to foster it.
I look forward to receiving your comments.