Florida residents have been waiting years for the Brightline high-speed intercity rail line to connect Miami and Orlando. That day is now imminent, with service expected to begin this summer. But questions remain about how this will affect travel not only for residents but also for visitors. Senior editor Nicole Edenedo spoke with Brightline President Patrick Goddard at the opening of the company’s station at the 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 does it mean for tourism in general in Florida?
A: It’s 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 is the only intercity passenger rail system built in the United States in over 100 years. Of course, it will be a huge benefit to Floridians who do a lot of tourism in the state, but we have a huge influx of domestic tourists from four or five states that are huge tourism demand generators in Central and South Florida. These markets will now have this easy, convenient, safe, eco-friendly alternative for them 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 is very disconcerting to come from another country and rent a car and navigate to the highway. So for them to be able to arrive at the Miami airport, take a 10-minute shuttle to our downtown Miami station, and be in Orlando for about three hours, I think it’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-voyage opportunities?
A: We will definitely have marketing partnerships with many of the major demand generators and attractions in the region, as well as hotels and resorts. A lot of travel agents are already talking to us about how they can package us — Brightline, theme parks, hotels, flights, everything — so right now we’re working with wholesalers and travel agents, and it’s an ongoing dialogue. We will be able to book via GDS. We plan to put tickets on sale [in May]. Wholesalers will already be able to book by then and then we expect to be set up on the GDS by July or August.
Q: Brightline offers two ticket classes, Smart and Premium. What are the motivations behind the branding of the Smart class?
A: We wanted to convey that this is more than economy. It’s more like business class: leather seats, outlets, great WiFi, food and drinks on board. That doesn’t sound like economy to me. So we decided that economy was the wrong word. We want people to feel smart about booking this trip, like you made a smart decision. You have made a decision to be greener, more productive, to do something that is more convenient. So that was really the reasoning behind it.
Q: Does Brightline have plans to offer its own package tours?
A: I think so. When you’re providing a meaningful service to people in terms of how to get around, there’s no reason not to help inform the people around you about the best ways to benefit from our service. And it could be hotels and attractions that are in close proximity to our stations, it could be flights that are convenient in terms of connectivity, especially between Orlando Airport and our station. So I think it will make sense over time to explore how we can provide these services and serve them to our guests.