April 8, 2016 2:00:23 am
After skipping a trip last week for the first time in its 34-year history for want of passengers, India’s oldest luxury train — the Palace on Wheels — arrived Thursday in Jaipur from New Delhi for another week-long journey.
With 45 passengers on board for the current trip, officials are relieved for now. There were no bookings last week, and just 18 the week before.
The iconic heritage train has a capacity of 104 passengers.
“Railway tourism in India has been down for the past few years and other luxury trains which have come up in the last decade, such as Deccan Odyssey (2004), Maharajas’ Express (2010), Golden Chariot (2008) and Royal Rajasthan on Wheels (2012), are now competing for share in a static market. We run all four weeks in a month, whether the occupancy is 30 or 100. Whereas these trains may run once in a month or more, depending upon bookings, and then claim that they are running in full occupancy,” said Pradeep Bohra, General Manager, Palace on Wheels.
While the Palace on Wheels set the initial benchmarks for luxury railway travel in India and once ruled the market, it has increasingly conceded the lead over time.
From 79 per cent in 2011-12, average occupancy has slowly dwindled to 65 per cent, 61 per cent, 56 per cent in the subsequent years, respectively. It stood at 48 per cent in 2015-16. While the number of passengers has gone down from 2,883 five years ago to 1,739 in 2015-16, the train’s income is now 69 per cent of what it was back then.
The cancellation also served as a reminder of the perils of ignoring competition. The train introduced advance bookings only from this season — which begins in September and ends every year in April.
Sunil Sharma, Executive Director, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) says that the railway ministry needs to focus more on marketing luxury train travel abroad as 93 per cent of Palace on Wheel passengers are foreigners. The Palace on Wheels is run by the RTDC and the Railways in a 44:56 partnership.
CPRO of North Western Railways, Tarun Jain, however, said the Railways was “only concerned with the operations (such as refuelling, watering, haulage, etc.) of Palace on Wheels, while the RTDC is concerned with the commercial aspects, including marketing.”
Moreover, apart from competition from other luxury trains and a static luxury railway travel market, even terror attacks across the world have contributed to the train’s woes.
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