Like other rail companies, Thalys is recording a recovery in its leisure and business traffic. ” The occupancy rate has returned to the same level or even higher than 2019 but the transport plan is only 78%“, confides Bruno Dierickx, the marketing and sales director. On the business side, employees of SMEs, start-ups, freelancers and lobbying firms operating in Brussels are back on the trains. Some are still missing from the corporate side, which should return to pre-crisis levels by the end of the year or early 2022. ” We were hoping for a catch-up in October, but many employees are still teleworking in Belgium and Germany,” he notes. To stimulate the market, a promotion on subscriptions will be launched in the next few days.

Giving back the offer to business customers

In the longer term, Thalys believes that it should take advantage of the savings measures taken by companies as part of their travel policy and lower carbon consumption in order to make the difference with air travel. The switch could come into play on Paris-Amsterdam and Paris-Cologne, its longest routes where competition with air travel remains strong. ” Our main competitor remains the car, which has regained some strength with the health crisis“, he stresses. In order to (re)attract business customers, the carrier’s priority has been to put back on offer to restore flexibility and facilitate day trips. Thus, Thalys currently operates 15 return trips from Paris to Brussels, including 9 to Amsterdam and 4 return trips from Paris to Cologne.

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Thalys, the future Eurostar Red

The renovation of 17 of its 26 trains by 2024 should also attract its business customers thanks to enhanced comfort and service on board (see box). The transformation of the nine other trains will depend on the confirmation of the resumption of traffic over this period and on the needs within the framework of the current merger with Eurostar, Thalys having to take the name of Eurostar Red in reference to the colours of the trains running on its network (the cross-Channel branch taking the name Eurostar Blue). But the merger is far from being a long quiet river, Eurostar suffering a double penalty with the impact of the health crisis and Brexit, but also now the arrival in two to three years of a first rail competitor with the Renfe. ” For the merger to succeed, both parties must be in good shape,” acknowledges Bruno Dierickx, who confirms that the 30 million passenger mark is still the goal.

we are not immune of a pleasant surprise in the business customer base

While waiting for the commercial and marketing launch of this merger, called Green Speed, in two years’ time, Thalys hopes to regain its pre-crisis volumes, including 80% of its business traffic, by the same date, i.e. the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023. ” Leisure will compensate for the delay that may exist in business, as Thalys was already saturated in this segment before Covid. But we are also not immune to a good surprise on the business clientele“, concludes the manager. The return to profitability should follow in the same time frame.

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Ruby trains with enhanced comfort

On the occasion of an official trip between the Brussels-Midi and Paris Nord stations, Thalys inaugurated the first of its 17 renovated TGV trains, known as Ruby, on Wednesday. The second will be put into service on the network in the next few weeks, with the whole process due to be completed by the end of 2024. The spaces have been completely overhauled – only the old coat hooks have survived – to offer more comfortable seats, electrical sockets and USB ports in all classes of travel, information screens at the ends of the carriage, a new luggage rack running above the seats and a brighter atmosphere thanks to a set of LEDs overhanging the central aisle.

In Comfort and Premium, the seat structure in “silver-gold” shades highlights the colour of the fabrics, speckled grey and burgundy red. Passengers have two different-sized shelves, a reading light, a soft headrest, a newspaper and jacket holder, a wide footrest and a sturdy handle for easy access. The seat numbering is now at eye level, integrated into the luggage rack just like the reading light. The space between the seats remains wide to accommodate the taller Dutchmen. The generous reclining of the seats is done mechanically, manually in Standard class. The red and orange tones predominate in this last class, which benefits from quasi-shell seats to save space while offering more privacy between the rows.

We have succeeded in bringing a real generosity to this class through services and small attentions“, confides the designer Matali Crasset who accompanied the Belgian firm Yellow Window in this renovation project. The bar has been renamed the Kiosk, equipped with vending machines and transformed into a place for people to pass through and consume quickly. The capacity of the trains was increased to 389 seats with the addition of 28 seats divided between the two classes.