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Rocky Mountaineer to benefit Pemberton

Rail tour provider outlines potential economic impact at community meeting

Pemberton is well poised to take advantage of Rocky Mountaineer’s new tour routes. That was the message that Ian Robertson, director of sustainable development for the tour company, heralded at a recent meeting sponsored by the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce.

Rocky Mountaineer, the Vancouver-based company renowned for its rail tours of The Rockies is adding two new routes that could benefit Pemberton. Scheduled to start in 2006 are the Whistler Mountaineer and the Fraser Discovery Route. The Whistler Mountaineer will be a three-hour, day-trip from Vancouver to Whistler, while the Fraser Discovery Route will technically begin in Whistler and take passengers north to Prince George to cross east over The Rockies and into Jasper.

"The economic opportunities are significant, says Robertson. "We estimate that even over-nighting the train in Pemberton, the value of those contracts could be between $.75 million and $1 million. We’ll need everything from cleaning services to septic, security, flowers and catering."

While a decision has not been made as to where the Fraser Discovery train will over-night, Robertson maintains that Pemberton is under serious consideration.

Robertson also feels that local food suppliers are in a good position to leverage the train coming through the community to their economic advantage.

"There’s a distinct possibility we would want to work with local supplies for regional cuisine, this a very important part of our onboard service."

The day after the meeting, Robertson met with one of those suppliers, Helmers’ Organic Farms, to discuss the various opportunities for food producers that will arise once the trains begin running next May.

The other major benefit to the community will be jobs. Robertson estimates that the company will be hiring an additional 75- 80 employees to staff the new routes, many of whom will come from Sea-to-Sky corridor communities.

David McKenzie, general manager of the Pemberton Valley Lodge, is enthusiastic about the economic potential being on a Rocky Mountaineer route means for the community. McKenzie, who formerly managed a hotel in Jasper, has had extensive experience with the rail tour company.

"It’s obviously going to be an excellent thing to have, that’s part of the reason we held a meeting (at the lodge)," says McKenzie. "Being on the Fraser Discovery route is great, but it’s also exciting that they are providing a daily service to Whistler."

McKenzie, who also chairs the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce tourism committee, feels the train, whether it over-nights or not, will yield great dividends for the community.

"The spin-offs include everything from people doing self-drive packages from Whistler and staying in our B&Bs and lodges to people who have toured the area by train returning by car or telling their friends," says McKenzie.

The idea of repeat car traffic is substantiated by statistics Rocky Mountaineer has gathered. Robertson says that there has been significant "rubber tire traffic" in Kamloops, one of the communities on the Original Rocky Mountaineer route.

"People are returning to the area and spending a week or two, travelling on their own," says Robertson, adding that it is impossible to quantify the economic impact that kind of repeat business has on an area.

McKenzie is certain that once exposed to the beauty of the Pemberton Valley, Rocky Mountaineer clientele will return. The fact that the area offers an array of recreation opportunities could also be a major draw.

"We offer a plethora of activities here: fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and a variety of tours — and, of course, two excellent golf courses."

Shirley Henry, secretary and past president of the Chamber of Commerce, echoes McKenzie’s enthusiasm.

"The opportunities are limitless. You just have to be creative and think outside the box," she says.

McKenzie sees those opportunities being supported by two significant factors, Rocky Mountaineer’s strong marketing and Pemberton’s proximity to Whistler.

"We don’t have a lot of money for big marketing campaigns," says McKenzie of the newly formed Pemberton tourism committee. "We kind of rely on our partner’s next door for that."

• • •

Rocky Mountaineer announced last week that it had purchased Gray Line sightseeing and charter bus operations in Vancouver, Victoria and Banff as part of its expansion in vacation packaging.

The purchase, from Greyhound Canada Transportation Corp., includes 120 luxury motor coaches and 30 double decker buses. Four-hundred full-time and seasonal employees are also part of the package.

Gray Line has been one of Rocky Mountaineer’s largest customers, with train passengers taking motor coaches to many of the sites in the Rockies as well as connections in Vancouver.