Low cost flights have taken their toll on the exotic and famous Orient Express train.
The Orient Express is the world famous original luxury train that first started its transcontinental journey across Europe in 1883. It was a sleeper locomotive that epitomised all that represented the elegance of first class travel and was made famous by Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name. The Orient Express‘ route saw it traverse 13 countries starting in Paris and terminating in Vienna. However the terminus changed throughout the years to include Istanbul. Along the way stops could be made at cities including Paris, Strasbourg, Salzburg and Vienna to name a few. However the last journey of the original Orient Express was on 12 December 2009 from Strasbourg to Vienna after 126 years of first class service.
The Venice Simplon Orient Express now runs on a much larger scale and the name now boasts cruises and hotels in its brand. Conscious of its roots, the new company follows on from its predecessors legacy and ethos best summed up by Robert Louis Stevenson who said ‘to travel is hopefully a better thing than to arrive’. Today the Orient Express brand has spread well beyond European boarders and the’ Orient Express’ name can be found in 25 countries in 5 continents across the world.
As lovely as it is to have the name living on, is the new Orient Express anything as special compared to the world renowned original? And how have low cost flights taken their toll on bookings? As Europe has got smaller and better connected, place like Belgrade and Istanbul are no longer the exotic destinations they were in Agatha Christie’s day.
With the arrival of the jet engine, journey times have been slashed travel became democratised, no longer a preserve of the rich. We look back and consider that a long international train journey might be a waste of time and money, and indeed it is today, considering the whole Orient Express route can be flown in 3 hours and cost less than €100. However, back in its 1920s and 30s heyday, the Orient Express was in fact the quickest and most high tech way to get across Europe (hence the ‘Express’ part of the name’). Travelling across borders took a lot longer, and even though the Orient Express name has now become synonymous with tourism- one look at Agatha Christie’s novel will show the sheer variety of people travelling on the train, with most were travelling on business. These days, such people want to be at their destinations quickly, so the Orient Express lost customers to airlines and electric high speed trains. Numbers dwindled and Orient Express existed solely for tourists and corporate parties who wanted to emulate the glamour from that age.
The Orient Express brand was and is aware of these threats, and throughout its history updated itself to keep up with the times as best as it could, whilst continuing the traditions of first class service. What previously involved magnificent dinners and personal butlers evolved into massages, free-wifi and high-tech plasma televisions.
Despite the name it’s fair to say the Orient Express of the modern age is a shadow of itself. What continues to operate today is mainly privately run trains under the umbrella name. First class service and experience is still the image the company is trying to maintain in keeping with the luxury end of the travel spectrum. The legacy continues in other ways too. The Orient Express pioneered luxury branding and advertising and up until recently, some airlines trained their first class staff from guides written by former Orient Express stewards. Low cost flights however could be having a positive as well as a negative effect on the most famous train journey in the world.
With security controls increasing and passenger budgets decreasing, travellers may look to alternative mode of transport, especially for journeys in and around Europe. However, the price of the Orient Express attracts a clientele that is not necessarily looking for the best deal but more for a luxurious traveling experience. Will travellers look to the Orient Express as an alternative medium of transport? It is possible, but the most likely benefit in the train world to a less hassle free travel could be the Interrail which offers a wider range of options for travel destinations and advertises deals which attracts people from all walks of life.
Although changing times have been reflected on a different ‘Orient Express’ to the one Agatha Christie based her novel set in the 1930’s, the consumers need for a ‘golden age’ mode of transport keeps the Venice-Simplon Orient Express chugging along into the 21st century.