RAIL Europe plans to build on last year's success of the Euro Domino pass by stepping up its promotional activities to the trade.
Last year the company sold 10,600 passes, an increase of 17% over 1997. Much of this success was down to the football World Cup in France.
"We are looking to increase the overall market for passes this year by working more with the trade," said Rail Europe communications manager Peter Mills.
The company has put in place a new system of key account managers to build relationships with the trade and is planning a series of product presentations and educationals next year to give agency staff first-hand experience of the products.
Euro Domino, which is commissionable to agents, entitles clients to travel in 27 European countries and Morocco.
Previously restricted to three, five or 10 days' travel in a one-month period, it is now sold for any period between three and eight days' travel within a month.
The company's best seller is the French version of the pass, accounting for 66% of total UK Euro Domino sales. Passes for Holland and Germany are the second and third-largest sellers.
Using the pass, clients can travel on most European high-speed expresses.
The only extras payable are for seat reservations - often compulsory - and sleeping accommodation."Rail passes appeal to independent holidaymakers who want to do their own thing," said Mills.
"If clients want to do a wine or gastronomy tour, they could start off in Dijon, pop to Lyon and then head for Bordeaux.
"Passes are economical too. If you want to travel to Lille, Nice, Bordeaux and back to Lille, it would cost £190 to buy individual tickets, whereas the cost of a three-day Euro Domino ticket to take in those three places would be £119."
Events-based marketing will also play a part in keeping sales at last year's record levels.
"This year we want to bring people's attention to cultural events in France. We have included information on festivals and exhibitions in our new magazine Directions to encourage people to book more breaks," said Mills
The company also offers its long-standing Inter-Rail pass, which now has its own magazine Ticket to Ride .
Meanwhile, Netherlands Railways general sales agent Holland Rail UK is hoping next summer's Euro 2000 football championship in Belgium and Holland will stimulate sales of the Benelux Tourrail Card.
Managing director Rod Maton said: "Thanks to Eurostar there's a building market for rail passes and we're happy to pay agents 5%.
"The Holland Rail Pass is flexible and cheap. With Amsterdam booking up at peak periods, the tourist board is advising people to stay outside the city."
Rail passes are also developing on the other side of the globe with the growth of independent travel. New Zealand's Trans Rail pass, valid for six months, carries 600 points (£150), 800 points (£195) or 1,000 points (£236).
The 1,000-point pass would allow a trip taking in Auckland, Rotorua, Napier, Wellington, Picton, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin.
In Australia, the Flexi-Pass allows unlimited travel within a six-month period. Coach Class prices: eight-day £215, 15-day £310, 22-day £437, 29-day £566.
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