The Future of Train Travel: Belmond Q&A

By Rebecca Cox

10 months ago

In our series about the future of slow travel, Belmond’s Gary Franklin gives his thoughts.

The rail renaissance gathers pace. So what should we expect from train travel in the months and years to come? Vice President, Trains & Cruises at Belmond, Gary Franklin gives his thoughts. 

The Future of Train Travel: Belmond

Q: Do you think interest has increased in train travel and particularly in train-centred holidays over the last few years? 

A: Definitely. We have seen all our products outperform their pre-pandemic results last year. 2023 is already proving very successful, with our Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train growing +28% in revenue compared to same time last year. 

Q: What do you think is leading this revival in rail?  

A: Belmond has pioneered slow travel and railway travel since 1892: we are very happy to see a resurgence in the romance of the rails. This can be connected to multiple reasons, including the desire to slow down, disconnect and travel more meaningfully and sustainably.   

Nostalgia also plays a role in the resurgence of luxury travel. The historical value of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and its role in contemporary culture are simply unmatched: people dream of stepping on board our train, an Art Deco masterpiece made of 17 carriages from the 1920s and 1930s. What’s remarkable about the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is that no matter what its heritage is, what we offer on board is still relevant to today’s travellers. We keep exploring new possibilities with this train: we added new trips and destinations; we introduced new opulent accommodations, like the Suites and Grand Suites; and we reinvented our dining offer thanks to our Chef, Jean Imbert who has been with the train since 2022.

Q: What do you think is the ultimate train trip? 

A: The capillarity of the railway system allows travellers to explore almost every corner of the world by train. In Europe, the most legendary journey on the rails is arguably the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’ trip from Paris to Istanbul. It’s an epic 5-night adventure across the continent, retracing the train’s transcontinental route. On the 2nd of November, we are running the second edition of our Travel with Pride journey – a celebration of modern queer brilliance with live performances from LGBTQI+ artists – in support of UK trans-led charity Not A Phase.  

Another incredible region to explore on the rails is Southeast Asia. Belmond’s iconic Easter & Oriental Express train will resume operations in February 2024, taking travellers on a remote adventure across Malaysia’s ever-changing landscapes and vibrant cities.  

Closer to home, the British Pullman offers a host of quintessentially British day trips to discover every hidden corner of England, while the Royal Scotsman delves deep into the region’s scenic landscape, traditions, and culinary highlights with themed journeys like the Ultimate Whisky Odyssey. This newly launched trip allows our guests to discover hallowed distilleries and time-honoured heritage in the company of two revered whisky experts – Charles MacLean, awarded an MBE for services to Scotch Whisky in 2021, and Dr Bill Lumsden, a pioneer in the malt industry.  

Q: Any new plans that will take train travel to the next level in the near future?  

A: As part of a Belmond brand strategy to rejuvenate and elevate our assets we are working to add new, highest accommodation categories on board our trains. We just unveiled eight new lavish Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and two new Grand Suites will be added to Royal Scotsman next May 2024. 

We interviewed a host of rail travel specialists to put together this piece on the future of rail travel, and will be sharing these Q&As in full, so please remain onboard for the next instalment.