Eurostar celebrates 15 years

9 Nov 2009 by Tom Otley

Eurostar started its service between London and the Continent on 14 November 1994. Fifteen years and more than 100 million passengers later the train operator is planning big changes to retain its dominant position. Eurostar now has around an 80 per cent share of both the business and leisure market between both London and Paris, and London and Brussels and regularly achieves 96 per cent punctuality on its up to 18  trains a day to Paris and up to 10 trains a day to Brussels.

Nevertheless, Eurostar faces a number of challenges in 2010, not least the economic downturn, and the potential threat from European deregulation of rail travel. As reported at (Eurostar trims winter capacity 2.11.09) the company is cutting back on some services this winter, and is also looking at its product on board. Emma Harris, Sales and Marketing Director of Eurostar says that Eurostar is planning an “intermediate class” for “cost-conscious business travellers”.

At present Eurostar offers three classes: Standard, Leisure Select and Business Premier.

“A lot of business travellers have downgraded into Standard and are unhappy with the product they are getting…“ says Harris. “In 2005 we … separated our First Class into Business Premier and Leisure Select, building the appropriate environment around each customer, and this is a continuation of this process…”

The recognition that Eurostar is “under-delivering for the more cost-conscious market” has led Eurostar into a big market survey of its frequent customers to find out what they want from the service, and the exact details of the new “intermediate” class are yet to be announced.

Eurostar’s enviable check-in times: 30-minute check-in for Standard passengers, and a 10-minute check-in for Business Premier will perhaps be part of the mix, as will lounge access and use of the new travel centre immediately opposite check-in at St Pancras International for Business Premier travellers and Carte Blanche holders, making it much more convenient for business travellers to purchase, collect and exchange tickets quickly.

The second major challenge is deregulation, with Thalys’ accelerated services on December 13 2009 between Brussels and Amsterdam using a new stretch of high-speed track being the first example of a new chapter of high speed rail in Europe. In the short term the services are complimentary to Eurostar, and the company is unlikely to be immediately affected since only certain trains can use the Channel Tunnel, but Eurostar is looking to the long term.

“It’s something that we welcome because we feel that the long term vision for travel in Europe is rail, not air, “ says Harris. “We need more trains to join the category, more trains going to more destinations so we are excited about deregulation.”

Harris also says that the possibility of future competition has made Eurostar “rethink” its business.

“We have focussed on train versus plane to convince people to use us. Most people love Eurostar when they see that it’s easy and quick, unstressful, but if you have someone next to you doing the same thing you have to focus on other aspects of your product to retain your competitive edge, so it’s been very helpful for us and we have done a lot of research on what we can do to create those points of difference.

As well as a brand-repositioning exercise “refreshing our visual identity – logos, colour palettes” Eurostar is also unveiling its “Avontage” project which will focus on “getting a more consistent level of service”

“We recognise that our service is almost invisible, people don’t talk about the service on Eurostar, it’s all about the product, the trains.”

Further ahead, as reported on Business Traveller (Designer makeover for Eurostar), the company has been working with Italian designers Pininfarina, in preparation for  the mid-life engineering refurbishment of its trains, which will take place 2012-2015.

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