Florida residents have been waiting for years for the high-speed intercity rail line Brightline to connect Miami and Orlando. That day is now imminent, with service expected to begin this summer. But questions remain about how it will impact travel, not just for residents but also for visitors. Senior editor Nicole Edenedo spoke with Brightline president Patrick Goddard at the unveiling of the company's station at Orlando Airport about the company's plans to work with cruise lines, theme parks and local businesses and plans for its own packaged products.
Q: Brightline's new service between Orlando and Miami will be a big deal for Floridians, but what's the significance for tourism overall in Florida?
A: This is the culmination of a 10-year odyssey to build high-speed rail in the United States, and it's right in our backyard in Florida. It's the only intercity passenger rail system that's been built in the United States in over 100 years. Certainly, this will be a huge benefit to Florida residents who do a lot of in-state tourism, but we have a massive influx of domestic tourists from four or five states that are huge demand generators for tourism into Central and South Florida. Those markets are now going to have this easy, convenient, safe, ecofriendly alternative to be able to move around the state.
International tourists are used to flying into an airport and having a rail connection; we just don't have that here. It's very intimidating to come in from another country and rent a car and navigate the turnpike. So for them to be able to arrive into Miami Airport, take a 10-minute shuttle to our train station in downtown Miami and be in Orlando in about three hours, I think that's transformative for them and enhances their overall perception of the state.
Q: Does Brightline have plans to work with cruise lines, theme parks and other suppliers for pre- and post-trip opportunities?
A: We will definitely have marketing partnerships with a lot of the major demand generators and attractions in the region and the hotels and resorts, too. A lot of travel agents are already talking to us about how they can package us -- Brightline, theme parks, hotels, flights, the whole thing -- so we're working with wholesalers and travel agents right now, and that's an ongoing dialogue. We will be bookable through the GDS. We're planning to have tickets on sale [in May]. Wholesalers will already be able to book by then, and then we expect by July or August we will be set up on the GDS.
Q: Brightline offers two ticket classes, Smart and Premium. What's the reasoning behind the branding of the Smart class?
A: We wanted to suggest that this was more than economy. It's more like a business class: leather seats, outlets, great WiFi, food and beverage service onboard. That doesn't sound like economy to me. So we thought economy was the wrong word. We want people to feel smart about booking this trip, like you've made a smart decision. You've made the decision to be more ecofriendly, more productive, to do something that's more convenient. So that was really the rationale behind it.
Q: Does Brightline have any plans to offer packaged tours of its own?
A: I think so. When you're providing a meaningful service to people in terms of how to move around, there is no reason to not help inform people around the best ways to leverage our service. And that might be hotels and attractions that are adjacent to our stations, that may be flights that are convenient in terms of connectivity, particularly between the Orlando Airport and our station. So I think that it's going to make sense for us over time to explore how we can provide those services and serve them up for our guests.