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You’ve sent your clients to a beautiful all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. They’ve explored Europe on a bus tour, visited the rainforest in Costa Rica, done Disney and checked off a few national parks. They are looking for something new, something they haven’t done before. They want it to be luxurious but also unique.

Enter: a luxury train vacation. If your clients are in search of something new and exciting, consider learning more about luxury train travel and booking them on the journey of a lifetime. The Compass caught up with Rachel Hardy, luxury travel advisor and vice president, sales & marketing, The Society of International Railway Travelers (IRT), to learn more about this unique segment in the travel industry.

Rachel and a steward outside VSOE. (photo courtesy of IRT)

What got you interested in luxury train travel, and how long have you been working with The Society of International Railway Travelers?

Rachel: My parents started the Society of International Railway Travelers several years before I was born (we are celebrating our 40th anniversary in business this year!) — and they really inculcated a love for train travel within me from an early age. We went on train trips as a family starting when I was old enough to be in polite society. I have been working for the company for eight years now in my role as Vice President, Sales & Marketing and senior luxury travel advisor. 

Do you have a favorite train vacation or experience?

Rachel: I can get it down to my top two — choosing just one is too hard.

Rovos Rail's Pride of Africa is currently in my number-one spot. The amazing meals with regional wine pairings, the old-world glamor of the train itself, and the scenery make this one of the most interesting and unmissable trains in the world. The open-air observation deck is great for spotting animals, and for enjoying a pre- or post-dinner drink. And the Cape Town to Dar es Salaam journey is a great trip for first-time and returning visitors to Africa alike (although you have to book early — Rovos Rail is already selling out departures for 2025). The value is also unbeatable, relatively speaking.

My second-favorite has to be traveling from Venice to Paris on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE). The historical distinction of the train, coupled with the sheer elegance of the service, is transportative and singular. The atmosphere is incredibly fun and convivial.

Rachel and Angela Walker, IRT VP, Operations, on Rovos Rail observation car. (photo courtesy of IRT)

What qualifies a train to be categorized as “luxury”?

Rachel: There is a certain 'je ne sais quoi' about what qualifies one train as "luxury" and another not — but we have developed a few indicators at The Society of International Railway Travelers over the years.

The food has to be of a high gourmet quality. The service has to be similar to that of a five-star hotel. Guest rooms and public cars have to be comfortable and beautiful. Some of our trains have only one class of service that we consider luxury — for instance, Prestige Class on VIA Rail across Canada, or Platinum Class on The Ghan and the Indian Pacific in Australia.

We incorporate some day trains into our itineraries, like the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada, the Flam Railway in Norway, and the Bernina Express and Glacier Express in Switzerland. We don't strictly categorize these as "luxury trains," but at least one aspect of each makes these bucket-list experiences for rail aficionados. We arrange the highest class of service on whatever train we book.

Istanbul Grand Suite on the VSOE. (photo courtesy of IRT)

How can travel advisors learn more about luxury train travel?

Rachel: Our website is a great resource for learning about luxury train travel — and we love working with other travel advisors. We answer your questions promptly — our desire is to make you look like a star. Other (probably obvious) ways to learn more would be to sign up for a familiarization trip, or explore train travel on your own time. We have found that guests need a great deal of handholding when preparing for their first train trip — so it is a good idea to involve professionals who eat, sleep, and breathe train travel 24/7.

Where are some of the most luxurious trains in the world located?

Rachel: We have outstanding luxury trains on every continent except Antarctica. Some of our favorites are Rovos Rail's Pride of Africa in Southern and Southeast Africa, the Golden Eagle in the 'Stans of Central Asia, the Belmond Andean Explorer in the Peruvian highlands, the Danube Express in Central Europe, and the Belmond Royal Scotsman in Scotland.

The Ghan. (photo courtesy of Journey Beyond)

How do you figure out which trains to book your clients on?

Rachel: We like to start every potential booking with a phone call to talk over the limitations and quirks of a particular train vis a vis the traveler's own limitations. We have a saying in our office: "Train travel is not for everyone!" Tracks can be bumpy, depending on the location. Hallways are narrow, and train cabins tend to be smaller than, say, staterooms on a mega-ship. We have found that giving prospective guests all of the info up front is the best way to ensure that we have happy and prepared travelers.

If, say, we have a guest with serious back problems, we would recommend a custom trip to Switzerland that incorporates several of the best day trains rather than a 15-day trip across Southern Africa on Rovos Rail.

My advice to travel advisors who are considering booking their clients on a train: involve a train-specific agency to help everything go smoothly. Knowing your client's mobility restrictions up front is also critical.

About the Author

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Codie Liermann is the managing editor of The Compass. She began her career in the industry as a travel advisor prior to working as an editor. With a passion for creating valuable content for travel advisors, she aims to develop meaningful relationships with all types of travel companies in order to share their unique messages with the travel agency community.


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Amy B | 05/14/24 - 10:22 AM

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