Can rail travel be re-visited as a means of sustainable tourism? The International Union of Railways has launched TopRail to raise awareness of cruise and heritage railways, and scenic train routes around the world. With a series of workshops underway as part of the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism,
With 2017 officially declared as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations World Tourist Organisation (UNWTO), the International Union of Railways (UIC) launched TopRail in 2016 to actively promote sustainable railway tourism. Its aim is to enable close collaboration between stakeholders and their customers in order to grow railway tourism opportunities.
“Tourism and transport are intrinsically linked, and tourism represents 10% of global GDP and one of every 11 jobs,” says Vanessa Pérez, TopRail project manager. “Travel and tourism experience a continued expansion and have become one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the world.”
Recognising that tourism has connections beyond economics, the UNWHO measures its sustainability by its impact on the environment and society, as well as economics. Analysis includes the environmental impacts of tourism, such as energy use and disruption of ecosystems; dependency of tourism on the environment eg energy requirements and quality ecosystems; the social impacts of tourism activities; and the dependency on social infrastructure, such as local workforce and transport infrastructure.
With just 2% of international tourism using rail networks, there is significant growth potential for railways, especially as UNWTO forecasts an increase of 3.3% of international tourist arrivals year-on-year. This would equate to an estimated 1.8 billion tourists travelling the world in 2030.
Tourist railways are attractive products that have much to contribute to sustainable development, decentralisation, diversification and management of tourist flows,” explains Pérez, adding that it appeals to all types of customers, from the young to retirees and families, as well as rail enthusiasts. “Supporting sustainable tourism using railways is not only a strategic framework for ensuring a positive image of railways, but also a way to answer to social concerns, create a competitive advantage and manage risk.”
All operators and networks with tourism potential are the focus of TopRail’s mission: cruise trains, such as the Orient Express; trains providing mobility at a tourist destination connected to a mainline, from cultural hotspots to wine and gastronomic venues; trains running in scenic areas, for instance the Tibet train and the Train des Hirondelles; and heritage railways, including steam trains.