Not A Rail Trail. What’s in a Name?

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Not a Rail Trail. What’s in a name?

Last week we explored the Otago Rail Trail for a multi-trail tour we’re running later this season. We had an experience that verified my choice of company name Not a Rail Trail. For those of you who don’t know why I chose that name, let me explain…

A Rail Trail follows an old railway line. Railway lines are, obviously, built to allow the train to travel effectively, so the trails are pretty straight and flat.

The new cycle trails that are being built are not built solely on railway lines. They’re an eclectic mix of existing walking paths, roads, purpose built cycle trails and, occasionally, sections of old railway line. The variety is huge and they generally follow the lay of the land with only a few restrictions. If a customer books to ride one of these new cycle trails thinking it’s another easy rail trail, (as dangerously misrepresented by one of my competitors, unfortunately), as we’ve found on numerous occasions, they’re in for a shock.

It became a joke that customers would call it the Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) Rail trail and we’d spend the entire tour saying “it’s Not a Rail Trail!”!

All the cycle trails we use from Queenstown have sections with corners where you actually need to have some basic bike skills, they are in some remote locations where you may even need to cross a stream or river, and, shock horror, they have hills.

West-Coast-Wilderness-Trail-switchbacksAfter our first 2 seasons running cycle tours on the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail, where past Otago Rail Trail customers were often expecting easy straight and flat trails with frequent pubs and cafes and, consequently, were sometimes scarily unprepared for what and where they were going to ride, I came up with the name ‘Not a Rail Trail’. It seemed the easiest way of making it clear that these trails are something different. And it worked, current clients have very different expectations and are far better prepared.

Anyway, back to last week.

I was buying coffee in a cafe along the Otago Rail Trail. For the sake of the owner, it’s location shall remain secret. She was barking orders at frazzled staff, was clearly in a bad mood and was sharp, to the point of being rude, to the customers in front of me. And then she saw my branded polo shirt…

I won’t go into the tirade she unleashed on me, but to summarize, she was angry and abusive to me about my company name. The ORT committee had, apparently, discussed petitioning me to change my name as, in their view, it put down their Rail Trail. They wanted me to change it to something like “Not just a Rail rail”! Their sales were down and it was my fault for bagging the Rail Trail.


I really hope her opinion was an isolated one. For the future success of the ORT, they need to get over this blame game quickly to survive. Their sales are down because for the first time ever, the ORT has competition, and lots of it. There are many new cycle trails opening all the time. What the committee’s missed is how to re-brand themselves. I love the Otago Rail Trail, it’s iconic and as the original trail, it should always be the first to tick off your list. But, they must clearly understand one thing, although their experience is amazing, in my opinion, cycling in a straight line for 3 days on the same packed gravel is not that much fun compared to the amazing variety of cycling you can now get on all the new cycle trails.

I love the ORT, it has a very specific niche that the new cycle trails shouldn’t be able to compete with. But their new target market is not my target Cycle Trail customer.

My business name is simply designed to make that clear.

So, what’s in a name? Quite a lot apparently 🙂

Sara Leadbetter
General Manager, Not a Rail Trail

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