Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Tue March 24 2015

Yankee Leisure Group Adds Europe by Rail

Car Rental & Rail | James Ruggia | March 24, 2015

Yankee Leisure Group Adds Europe by Rail

PHOTO: Though they offer two Asian journeys and a Canadian journey, Europe — especially Italy — is the heart of the Unique Rail Journey brochure. (Courtesy of Yankee Leisure Group)

The classic travel troika of Budapest, Prague and Vienna has been a lynchpin of European river cruising for more than 20 years, but a new alternative has come our way from the purveyors of European land cruising. The new 32-page Unique Rail Journeys brochure for 2015 and 2016 offered by the Yankee Leisure Group features the 12-day Grand Imperial Cities, plus adds Berlin. The Berlin addition is a feature that no river cruise ship can offer and so this rail combination forges a product that gives it a real point of distinction. The package, according to Frank Marini, the president of the Yankee Leisure Group, is the best seller in the brochure.

The Unique Rail Journeys brochure is the result of a partnership forged between the Yankee Leisure Group and the U.K.’s Great Rail Journeys in the fall of 2013 that has each company marketing each other’s product line in their respective countries. “We offer their product in the U.S. and they offer ours in the United Kingdom,” said Marini, the president of the Yankee Leisure Group. “Both product lines have been tailored to each other’s needs.”

Soft-launched in 2014, the program hit the market this year with the brochure. Twelve European tours are the heart of the brochure, though there are two packages in Asia exploring China and Vietnam and one program in the Canadian Rockies going from Vancouver via Jasper and Banff to Calgary.

The European packages range from eight to 15 days in length. Italy is well represented on five programs that go from ankle to toe and even Sicily appears in one comprehensive 15-day journey. The eight-day Highlights of Tuscany can be found at the other end of the spectrum that ranges from the specific to the general. Spain, Ireland and Scotland each have dedicated programs of 12, 10 and nine days respectively.

The 13-day Grand Alpine Explorer offers a nice combination of mountain cities and glorious mountain rides including the Glacier Express. The Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express is featured in a nine-day program that visits Paris, Milan and Venice. There’s a classic London and Paris as well as a Berlin, Dresden and Prague.

Except for the Venice-Simplon package, the trains are not used for overnighting but as conveyances between destinations. “These are basically coach tours that use trains,” said Marini. “The program is doing really well. Signature and Ensemble are featuring it. Agents who have worked with us at Yankee Holidays and Amtrak Vacations, (the Yankee Leisure Group’s two divisions) are feeling very comfortable selling what we offer in Europe via Great Rail.”

Between them, Amtrak Vacations and Yankee Holidays offer more than 300 packages to more than 40 destinations in North America including independent, fully escorted, rail-and-sail and stand-alone rail journeys. Yankee Leisure Group offers a diverse product line that works well for British travelers who come to experience North America.

“The market in the U.K. is very different than the American market,” said Julian Appleyard, the commercial director of Grand Rail Journeys, which is based in York, England. “In England we have a real tradition of traveling by rail. For us it’s front of mind, the first option we consider when traveling.”

So what do British travelers like best among the new North American rail itineraries they’re seeing? “They love the coast-to-coast 21-day journey that we offer from New York to California,” said Appleyard. “We do group travel predominantly and so ours is a very strong social experience. A long trip like that, an epical trip really, suits that purpose beautifully.”

This partnership was originally created at Berlin’s annual ITB, where these interviews were conducted. After ITB, Marini flew off to London to meet with Grand Rail to see if there were any ways to expand the partnership.

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