Focus: Breaking Travel News interview: Aurelie Butin, director of product and service, Loco2

Loco2 was launched in 2012 by a team of committed train travellers, led by brother and sister Jamie and Kate Andrews.

The company enables low-cost booking for train travel throughout the UK and Europe.

Loco2’s mission is to offer a low CO2 way to travel, at a low price, hence the name.

Here we find out more in conversation with Aurelie Butin, Loco2’s director of product and service.

Breaking Travel News: Can we begin with an overview of Loco2 – what do you bring to the travel market in Europe?

Aurelie Butin: Loco2 is a comparison and booking platform for train and bus tickets in the UK and Europe.

It is the only service of its kind to sells tickets without any booking fees via its website and its smartphone apps – available on App Store and Play Store.

Though new companies have sprung up that offer rail tickets within Europe, until very recently, Loco2 was the first and only search and booking platform to enable users to buy train tickets for domestic and international travel in and around the UK and Europe.

So, customers can book tickets from Bath to Barcelona or Glasgow to Genoa, all in one simple transaction.

A major hurdle in the rail industry is that train operators across Europe release their tickets at different times.

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Some six months ahead, some just 60 days, so it can be a nightmare to create an itinerary with tickets from more than one operator.

That’s why we developed our booking alert functionality, which notifies customers as soon as booking opens.

Behind the scenes, it’s one of the most complicated parts of our software, but for customers, it’s a simple – and invaluable – tool to enable them to buy train tickets the moment they are released, often with great cost savings.

Now that we have successfully connected to most of the major rail and bus operators in Europe and heavily simplified the booking process for long-distance cross-country train travel, we are shifting our focus towards local travellers making frequent domestic trips.

This market is very often massively dominated by one historical player (whether it’s the rail operator themselves in continental Europe or third-party distributors such as Trainline in the UK).

We want to disrupt this market in the same way we disrupted long distance pan-European train travel.

We are currently working behind the scenes on a very exciting new product for the UK market that we hope will improve the prospect of train travel for many.

BTN: In which markets do you currently operate – and where will you be looking to expand in the coming months?

AB: We currently cover over 50 rail operators in 30 countries and 20,000 train stations.

Adding new rail operators is our bread and butter and we’ve got several in the pipeline.

In the last four months, we connected to BeNe, the rail operator in Benelux, giving us access to the Dutch railways through Belgium and the Netherlands.

However, we are still looking to increase our coverage of the Netherlands.

We have nearly finished an integration with Austrian Railways ÖBB, which we are due to launch next week.

This is exciting because this connection enables us to offer our customers seamless travel from those neighbouring countries we already serve well, particularly Italy and Germany. 

We are also working with Switzerland (CFF/SBB) and they now have an API to allow us to connect to our booking technology – this will be live later this year.

Currently, we’ve got new exciting projects in the pipeline to improve the customer experience.

From live data on our apps, to live chat customer support, we’re constantly building new features and functionality to help our users get more support and information at their fingertips.

The biggest project we are working on right now is the new infrastructure for our app via the VS desktop.

This new platform will be more effective and quicker. We are working on new designs and functionalities particularly addressing domestic train travellers.

Historically, Loco2 has been focusing on long-distance leisure customers who were booking a trip in Europe for their holiday.

Now we have some exciting new features to be launched soon in the UK market which will enable us to focus more on local travellers.

We want to reflect that in our product, so customers can either book their weekly trip to London in three quick taps or take their time to search, compare and book their longer travels across Europe.

BTN: Despite the efforts of the European Union, most recently with the fourth railway package, the rail sector remains divided along national lines. How far does Loco2 help to overcome the challenges this presents?

AB: Despite efforts for more competition and liberalisation around the rail industry in continental Europe, it’s still very much dominated by the historical national rail operators.

Those operators (SNCF in France, DB in Germany, Renfe in Spain, etc.) have been the only companies allowed to operate trains in their countries for years, and were the only ones distributing their tickets.

However, things are slowly changing, as new players in both the distribution and operational markets are emerging.

But it takes time to change consumer habits too – for customers it’s a risk to test out new platforms rather than to stick to the companies they know and have trusted for years.

When people in France have always bought their train tickets on the SNCF website, it’s difficult to tell them that there are now other places to buy these tickets.

I think there is a big opportunity here for non-operator’s distributors like us, as we can sell any products everywhere without bearing the name of a specific operator.

In the past, SNCF predominantly sold SNCF tickets.

For a French person wanting to book a train ticket in Spain for whatever reason, it’s a complicated process and it doesn’t make sense to buy a Renfe ticket on a website branded SNCF because not everyone knows that the rail operator in Spain is Renfe.

It’s a real hurdle to international train travel.

New distributors delete those borders by removing those hurdles; a person, no matter where they are in Europe, can buy a ticket anywhere without any issues.

They are familiar with the brand, they are used to the website, and they trust it.

They don’t have to try and book with a different brand every time they want to travel to a different country in Europe.

I think that, ultimately, it’s going to grow the market as more and more people will travel by train internationally.

In the same way Uber simplifies the lives of millions of people by enabling customer to order a taxi wherever they are in the world, third party rail distributors will do the same.

Booking a train anywhere, whether it’s in your country and you are very familiar with the system, or in a different country where it can seem very alien and confusing, everything is easy for the customer as we have done the hard work for them. 

BTN: Loco2 has spoken in the past about the advantages of ‘slow travel,’ allowing guests to soak up the environment and take time to appreciate their surroundings. Does rail travel play a role in this?

AB: Slow travel is about making conscious choices and connecting to a place and its culture.

Gone are the hectic holiday tours where you cram in as many activities as possible – more temples, more museums, more galleries.

Instead, people are taking the time to relax and enjoy their holiday by immersing themselves in the local culture, for example buying food from the market and cooking it rather than eating at a restaurant.

Slow travel is a state of mind which is being adopted by the masses.

And a good way to start the experience is by taking the train to your destination.

Trains are the most comfortable and relaxing form of long-distance travel.

Whether you are seeking spectacular scenery, luxurious carriages, heritage steam trains or epic long-distance journeys, perhaps aboard a sleeper, there is no better perspective on the world than from a railway carriage.

The rail journey itself becomes a time to relax rather than a stressful interlude from home to the destination.

BTN: How far does rail travel contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of the tourism sector?

AB: When it comes to sustainable travel, going by train is much greener than flying.

Not only is fuel used more efficiently, but electric trains can run on green electricity, reducing CO2 emissions even more.

Celebrating low carbon travel is at the heart of what we do, and even our name Loco2 is a nod to the fact that trains are ‘low CO2’ compared with planes.

Taking the train can cut your carbon emissions by up to 90 per cent.

According to research, a return journey by plane from London to Paris produces 244 kilogrammes of CO2 per passenger.

The equivalent journey by train produces only 22 kilogrammes of CO2 per passenger. 

Furthermore, our study revealed that 43 per cent of people in the UK who regularly travel by train would like to know how each train is being powered, to enable them to make a more environmentally-conscious decision about which one to travel on.

We’ve created a petition to request that UK train operators be more transparent about what fuel is powering their trains.

Hydrogen trains, although more expensive to buy, are cheaper to run as well as being quieter than diesel trains and their carbon footprint is far smaller than diesel or electric trains.

The UK transport secretary Chris Grayling believes trains powered by hydrogen could be a reality in the ‘early 2020s’ – something we look forward to seeing. 

More Information

Find out more about Loco2 on the official website.

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