Wednesday, February 6

Back to the Future

I have long held that Italy is a very nostalgic country. And now it looks like the folks at Trenitalia are so nostalgic, they’ve decided to take us right back to 1985; with the exception of their spiffy Eurostar trains (the train I love to hate) and the fact that nowadays, we all get a seat (we’d be fined €50 if we boarded without tickets—explain that to the foreign tourists), and of course, the ticket prices: we now pay about 18 times more to receive the same service we had in the ‘80s.

The nostalgia is so prevalent, the fancy website now even redirects back to its old unwritable and unpronounceable name, ferrovie dello stato (State Railways). I’m sure you’ll find this brainy move in your Marketing textbook right next to the Case History on Alitalia’s 50 years of running losses, and yet it still goes on flying. You can well imagine where we’re headed here in terms of efficiency and quality:

- In a country banking on tourism, you can no longer purchase tickets online with a foreign bank card. So, back to the ticket lines.

- When calling the reservations number (and here they are quite efficient and bilingual), I was told that the groovy promotions are on a first come first served basis, and to simply ask for my discount back at the ticket office.

- The windows were plastered with the promotion, but the ticket guy said those discounts were taken away on February 1st (it’s Feb 5th). So much for coordination of the information flow. I later discovered he lied – probably just couldn’t be bothered.

- I hold an Executive (Frequent Traveller) Card which, when it was first instated granted me a great many benefits (of course, for a hefty membership fee) including: free luggage checks, 10% discounts on travel, a wonderful lounge for meetings, free drinks, internet access, and no lines. Over the years, each one of these terrific benefits has been taken away; and so here we are, in 2008, when none are no longer applied (except the membership fee, of course). So much for keeping your customers happy. You'll find this move in your Marketing Textbook under "Monopoly Power".

- Once on board, I was surprised to see the drink vendors from days gone by roaming up and down the coaches even though there’s a bar on board. There is one modern update, however: now these guys are Albanians. Even just last year, the personnel manned each entranceway in an effort to keep these and other undesirables from clamboring aboard and stealing your luggage. I can’t tell you how many bags I saw literally fly out the doorway before this not-so-little perk was put in place. But no more.

- And while my train to/from Florence was on time, the bathrooms are back to ‘80s (or 1920s, take your pick) standards. And, the wonderfully courteous conductors who religiously checked your tickets now run through the cars mostly skipping us altogether just like before. If this keeps up, maybe I can get away with a free ride like half the guys in my 2nd class car (I no longer can afford 1st) -- just like I did when I was a student in the ‘80s.

Can someone please find the contraption to put us back up to 2006 again??


Anonymous said...

all this makes me nostalgic for those smoke filled 6 people train compartments. now, with the open ones, you don't get so 'close' to and friendly with other passengers.. and rarely anyone offers part of their lunch as in days of yore...

Anonymous said...

ohh boy, just when italy takes one step forward, it takes 2 steps back!