Travel And Tour World – What is the mission of Amtrak?
Robert Friedman: Amtrak has demonstrated that passenger rail fills an important need for the country, its residents and its guests. As such, Amtrak’s mission is: “Delivering intercity transportation with superior safety, customer service and financial excellence.” Collectively and individually, it is the job of everyone with a connection to Amtrak to give our customers a travel experience that exceeds their expectations, while ensuring we have a safe operation and that we are continually building the financial strength of the company.
Travel And Tour World – When it comes to improving its branding, what are the major challenges that Amtrak faces?
Robert Friedman: Although Amtrak has near-universal brand awareness, it hasn’t always been a top-of-mind option for travelers, particularly outside of the busy Northeast Corridor. To inform and inspire travelers to regularly consider train travel as a top method of transportation, Amtrak two weeks ago (September 14th) unveiled a new brand campaign “500 Destinations. Infinite Stories.” inspired by passengers’ travel experiences from across the U.S. The new campaign showcases the comfort, freedom, service and value of train travel. We believe this campaign, which tells stories about experiences only rail travel can provide, will elevate consideration and usage.
The multi-platform campaign provides brand consistency across all channels including TV, print, digital and social media and features the breadth of Amtrak’s national train system including long distance , Acela® and Northeast Regional trains, as well as state-supported routes. The campaign includes one 30 second spot, which will air in primetime, as well as several 15 second videos featured on such sites as YouTube, Hulu and Tremor. The campaign also includes a multi-faceted social media component including a landing page on Amtrak’s blog, a call to action for passengers to share their stories on social media using the hashtag #AmtrakStories, and specific content on Amtrak’s Twitter, Facebook and Google+ social media handles.
Travel And Tour World: In what ways has Amtrak addressed technology aboard the train?
Robert Friedman: Amtrak continues to place a strong focus on improving customer satisfaction and, as such, has taken great strides to ensure passengers stay connected while traveling. Amtrak continues to take advantage of 4G technologies to improve performance, enhance the passenger experience and maintain a competitive edge. For instance, Amtrak offers free basic Wi-Fi service on more than two dozen train routes and several stations throughout the country. Specifically, AmtrakConnect is now available on all of our short-distance routes throughout the country, including in the states of California, Washington, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri. That’s 85% of our riders who now enjoy onboard Wi-Fi. Amtrak also is preparing to launch Wi-Fi on the Auto Train this fall and Eastern Long Distance routes early next year.
Amtrak’s Wi-Fi service has been praised by many passengers as it allows them to be productive and entertained while traveling between cities, unlike other modes of transportation.
Amtrak Trains with Wi-Fi service
• Acela Express
• Adirondack (not available in Canada)
• Amtrak Cascades
• Blue Water
• Capitol Corridor
• Empire Service
• Ethan Allen Express
• Hiawatha Service
• Illinois Zephyr
• Lincoln Service
• Maple Leaf (not available in Canada)
• Missouri River Runner
• New Haven – Springfield Shuttle
• Northeast Regional
• Pacific Surfliner
• Pere Marquette
• San Joaquin
• Wolverine Service
Amtrak Stations with Wi-Fi
• Baltimore, MD – Penn Station
• Boston, MA – South Station – available inside ClubAcela only
• Lorton, VA
• New York, NY – Penn Station – available in the gate areas and inside ClubAcela
• Philadelphia, PA – 30th Street Station – available in the gate areas and inside ClubAcela
• Providence, RI
• Sanford, FL
• Washington, DC – Union Station – available in the gate areas and inside ClubAcela
• Westwood, MA – Route 128
• Wilmington, DE – Wilmington Station
Travel And Tour World: Why do you think long-distance train travel is compared to car travel instead of air travel? Is price a big challenge?
Robert Friedman: America’s geography is as beautiful as it is diverse. While road trips and train travel are both part of the American experience, there is no better way to experience the country than by long-distance train. Amtrak offers more comfort, more freedom, better service and better value than many other modes of transportation. Passengers are encouraged to work, play, get up and walk around the train, or visit the dining, lounge, and observation cars. For business customers, Amtrak is a smarter way to be productive on the road. For families, Amtrak is the better way to connect with one another.
In terms of fares, Amtrak has a full range of travel options and is committed to ensuring passengers receive cost-effective ticket prices, both online and on the Amtrak app. For instance, passengers who book tickets 14 days in advance can save 20 percent or more off of the lowest available fares. Another option is to join our loyalty program, Amtrak Guest Rewards, which allows passengers to earn points toward free train trips. Amtrak also offers various discounts for children ages 2-12, students, seniors, and active duty military personnel and their families.
Travel And Tour World – Is it possible to market to an audience whose interest in a particular service is predetermined by their location?
Robert Friedman: Absolutely. In fact, over the past few years, we have seen a significant increase in interest and ridership by international travelers. Also, we have some customers who combine their Amtrak travel with their airline/flight schedule in order to enjoy our unique rail travel experience.
Travel And Tour World – What is Amtrak residency and what does the long-term residency program look like?
Robert Friedman: Amtrak Residency is a new, innovative and very popular program designed to allow professional writers and authors who are passionate about writing and train travel to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. In 2014, Amtrak announced the launch of the #AmtrakResidency program, which offered 24 writers a round-trip ticket on a long-distance train as well as accommodations in a private sleeper-car room, which was equipped with a bed, a desk and ample electrical outlets.
The inspirations for the program began in December 2013 when published author, Alexander Chee, was quoted as saying in Pen America that he does his “best writing on the train” and wished “Amtrak had a residency for writers.” By closely monitoring social media, Amtrak identified a residency program as an opportunity to increase awareness for Amtrak’s long-distance routes. More than 16,100 people submitted applications and a judging panel, comprised of a diverse group from the literary community, narrowed the applicants down to 24. In March 2014, the program launched with much fan-fare from the media and literary community.