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Great Rail Journeys acquires Chicago-based Vacations By Rail

Great Rail Journeys (GRJ) is increasing its presence in the US as it signed a deal to acquire Chicago-based Vacations By Rail (VBR).

The combined business will offer customers a global portfolio of escorted rail itineraries as well as an expanded collection of independent rail holidays to customers in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It will also provide the UK market with exclusive access to unique VBR products in North America’s National Parks and Alaska.

York-based Great Rail Journeys employs around 150 people and offers almost 400 itineraries to more than 50 countries. In the last five years, GRJ tapped into new source markets for its rail tours including Australia and more recently the US. Furthermore, 2018 saw the launch of a new river cruise offering. Also, its Summer 2020 programme has been extended to include exclusive small group tours where guests can combine rail with properties, from mountain-top hotels in Switzerland to a castle on a wilderness reserve in Scotland.

Established in 2004, Vacations By Rail employs a team of 30 and offers North American customers a large selection of independent rail vacations, escorted rail tours, luxury rail journeys and custom train vacations to destinations in North America. 

Heather Leisman, GRJ’s current president of North America, will assume leadership of the combined North American operation. VBR co-founders Todd Powell and Cole Dannewitz will join the existing GRJ executive team and transition into new roles which focus globally.

GRJ’s commitment to its trade partners will be stronger than ever with Lindsay Dixon continuing to provide support and education in the UK market. 

Peter Liney, CEO of Great Rail Journeys, said: “This acquisition is the first step of many as we look to enhance our position as the world’s leading rail holiday company. At a time of market uncertainty, it signifies our scale and ambition within the market and at one stroke makes us market leader for escorted rail holidays in the USA.”

“Building on recently launched programmes such as “Rail River Cruise” and “Small Group Tours”, this deal will present the trade with added benefits and an unrivalled rail portfolio range, giving a greater choice for all of our customers. From product expansion to investment in technology and strengthening both our escorted and independent travel business, the combination of our two businesses is very exciting for us all.”

Todd Powell, co-founder and CEO of Vacations By Rail, said: “We are delighted to be growing our partnership with GRJ, building on our strong working relationship to date.

“The combination of our two companies represents a significant opportunity to grow our footprint in the rail vacation sector domestically and internationally, as well as accelerate into new markets. We look forward to formally becoming part of the GRJ family.”


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