Easy online booking? Not with Dutch Rail, writes Annemarie van Gaal.
The revenue generated by tourists is becoming increasingly important to this country’s economy. But sometimes I get the feeling that Dutch Rail is not very interested.
Many provinces make life easier for tourists by offering them public transport travel passes valid for a couple of days. Train travel is not included: Dutch Rail refuses to cooperate.
Last week I had some friends over from Costa Rica. After Amsterdam they wanted to take the train to visit Antwerp, Paris and a few cities in Germany. Not a problem I thought. I went to the NS Hispeed website with its display of credit card logos and the promise of ‘easy online booking’. I chose the Interrail Global Pass: five days of limitless travel within the space of ten days. Perfect for my Costa Rican friends.
I filled out the form: names, dates, passport numbers, country of origin. So far so good. Unfortunately the next message that appeared on the screen said: ‘Your data have been sent on to our booking office. A confirmation will be sent to you within two working days. If you have opted to pay by credit card we will contact you by telephone.’
Two days? Contact me by phone? I don’t think so. My friends want to leave tomorrow.
We’ll buy the tickets tomorrow morning early at the international desk at Schiphol, I decided. But once there, the attendant had no idea which types of ticket were available on the site. Shame.
My Costa Rican friend comes here quite often and has a pin card. It has a pin code but lacks a chip. And that’s what it takes to pay Dutch Rail. Using a credit card to pay for an international ticket was impossible as well: ‘I’m sorry, NS do not accept credit cards.’
And there he was. The amount of money he could get from the cash machine was insufficient to pay for the train ticket. I received the promised phone call from NS next day. I asked why I can’t buy tickets online when the website says I can.
‘I’m sorry, we don’t accept online bookings for international tickets.’
‘Why?’, I asked
‘It’s open to fraud.’
‘All major airlines accept online bookings and the amounts involved are much higher. Why can they do it and NS can’t?’, I asked.
The NS worker couldn’t tell me. The pay-off of the NS’ expensive advertising campaign is: ‘Where are you going today?’ For now it looks as if tourists aren’t going anywhere. Perhaps the marketing budget would have been better spent on making sure NS can make good on their promise.
Annemarie van Gaal is head of AM Media and a writer and columnist.
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