Bad Marketing = Bad Results

Ask any professional advertising or marketing person what is the single most effective and least expensive form of advertising and I’ll bet the answer will be, “Word of Mouth.”

Take a look at this photo. I took it five years ago in the Pacific Parlour Car on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. My brother-in-law and I were traveling from Seattle en route to Los Angeles. (Peter’s the guy in the dark glasses, 4th from the left.)

The people in this photo are getting a taste of what it must have been like to really travel in style. And you can bet they told their friends and neighbors all about their experience when they got home.  

That’s Word of Mouth!

I’ve lost track of the number of times I rode all or part of the way between Los Angeles and Seattle on the Coast Starlight. It was the only Amtrak train that featured a Parlour Car and it was for sleeping car passengers only. There was an attendant who served meals for passengers who preferred to dine in the Parlour Car instead of the diner. 

And if, when I boarded the southbound train bright and early in the morning at Davis, California, I felt like having a Bloody Mary before heading into the dining car for breakfast, the Parlour Car attendant was happy to oblige.

It’s difficult to find the words to adequately describe the Parlour Car experience. The best I can do is say it offered a glimpse back into the Golden Age of train travel, when it was possible to travel in luxury and the best trains were close to being rolling hotels.

When Richard Anderson came in as Amtrak President in 2017, he began cutting costs and the Pacific Parlour Cars were among the first to go. Reason given? They were expensive to maintain. 

It seems to me there’s a fundamental truth when it comes to marketing a product or service: You don’t attract more customers by giving them less for their money.

And that’s been the experience of travelers who choose Amtrak’s long distance trains for traveling around our country. Daily service for most long distance trains . . . gone.  Full-service dining cars with meals prepared on board . . . gone. Regional dishes and different menus from one train to another . . . gone. And The Pacific Parlour Cars . . . gone.  

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict the inevitable result of this reduction of service.

High-revenue, sleeping car passengers . . . gone.