Greta Thunberg's refusal to take any flights since 2015 has spawned a whole 'train-bragging' movement, and it's ushered in a new era for luxury travellers around the world
- Inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg's eco-conscious travel, two Swedish terms have become 2019's buzzwords: flygskam (flight-shaming) and tagskryt (train-bragging).
- "Bragging" about reducing carbon footprints through train travel has led to an uptick in rail investments across Europe, especially overnight commuter services.
- Train-bragging sentiment has fueled the resurgence of luxury train travel.
- Beyond being an eco-friendly alternative to planes, trains appeal to a growing appetite for slow travel and meaningful experiences in today's fast-paced world.
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Step aside hygge, this year's buzzwords are flygskam (flight-shaming) and tagskryt (train-bragging).
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who spoke at the UN's Climate Action Summit in September and was voted Time's 2019 Person of the Year, is a big part of the reason why these Swedish terms have gained traction. To minimize her environmental footprint, Thunberg hasn't flown since 2015, opting for greener travel options such as trains and a 60-foot solar-powered yacht.
The so-called "Greta Effect" has spread throughout Sweden and Europe, inspiring travelers to "brag" about their eco-conscious train travel. A Swedish Facebook group called "Train Vacation" dedicated to discussing how to travel by train through Europe has seen its membership soar to 170,000 this year, up from 3,000 in 2017.
This renewed interest in rail travel has contributed to an uptick in rail investments across Europe, especially overnight services. Sweden is creating a public tender to add overnight train services to other countries; Austrian Federal Railways is pouring $221 million into renovating sleeper cars; and Italy's Trenitalia is spending $334 million on new trains and updates, Boris Groendahl and Catherine Bosley reported for Bloomberg.
And commuter sleepers aren't the only trains making a comeback.
Luxury travel operators are cashing in on the eco-friendly movement
Emphasis on the environment is fueling the resurgence of luxury train travel.
Capitalizing on the train-bragging sentiment, luxury travel tour operator Original Travel added 2020 train-only journeys to destinations including Italy, Canada, and Japan and is also developing train-based trips through Europe, Angelina Villa-Clarke reported for Forbes.
Meanwhile, Classic Collection, a UK-based personalized luxury travel company, told TTG Media that it is adding luxury train trips through Spain on the Al Andalus. Links Travel & Tours, another UK-based travel company that specializes in tailor-made trips to Asia, told TTG that they have developed dedicated rail tours through Japan and China at the request of their customers.
"As more travelers opt for train travel over plane travel, they're still seeking first- and business-class experiences," Geoff Whitmore wrote in his 2020 travel predictions for Forbes. "Just because they're choosing to lessen their carbon footprint doesn't mean that they're wanting to lower their standards by any means." Whitmore predicts that luxury train travel will increase in both Europe and North America next year.
Luxury travel is projected to be a $1.6 billion dollar industry by 2026, and in recent years luxury train companies have funneled millions of dollars into new and historic luxury trains, hedging their bets on growing consumer demand.
In 2017, Japan witnessed the launch of three luxury train services - Train Suite Shiki-shima, Twilight Express Mizukaze, and the Royal Express - Elizabeth Matsangou wrote for Business Destinations. That same year, Belmond launched the Andean Explorer, which runs from Cusco to Arequipa, and in 2018 renovated its iconic Venice Simplon-Orient Express, Amanda Copkov noted in Luxury Travel Advisor.
These developments are a stark departure from the state of train travel a decade ago. "Many assumed this mode [of travel] was heading towards extinction, lost in the battle of convenience and seen as outdated, stuffy and simply too slow," Matsangou wrote.
Train travel offers a slower pace of vacationing in a fast-paced world
The convenience of budget airlines has been widely cited as a reason for the decline of train travel. But as airports and highways become more congested, trains are becoming an alluring alternative. Guy Saunders, founder of luxury train travel company Planet Rail, told Matsangou in 2018 that his customers enjoy the fact that there is "no need to go anywhere near an airport."
And traveler tastes have changed. In a fast-paced world, travelers are also looking to slow down. According to Booking.com's 2020 predictions, "Slo-mo is the #FOMO." In other words, the rushing-to-be-everywhere zeitgeist, captured by the popular hashtag #fearofmissingout, has shifted to savoring the moment and appreciating the journey. Booking.com reports that 62% of its travelers want to go on a trip where transportation is part of the experience, and 64% are interested in historic luxury train journeys.
Travelers are also increasingly searching for meaningful experiences. According to the Global Wellness Summit's 2018 Trends Report, travelers want experiences that are not only authentic but that also resonate on a "deeper emotional level," Business Insider's Katie Warren previously reported.
Trains offer this chance to connect with destinations in a more intimate way, Saunders said. "It is a far more authentic travel experience than jumping on a plane and suddenly arriving in a different country. You get to see the scenery change and new landscapes unfold," he told Matsangou.
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