Feature - Rail & Tourism 

Rail service expected to bring new market to Whistler

With the absolute number of skiers and snowboarders in North America having grown very little in the last 15 years, ski resorts generally have to steal customers from one another in order for their skier visits to increase.

There are any number of factors that can influence skiers’ decisions on where to go, from snow conditions to price to investments in real estate.

But while it’s a complicated, tricky matter for resorts to attract skiers in the winter, tapping into a new summer market could be like found money.

That’s what proponents say the introduction of Whistler Rail Tours’ service could be for Whistler.

Whistler Rail Tours plans to align with the cruise ship industry, wholesale tour operators, convention planners, travel agencies and destination management companies.

"Strategic partnerships developed with the cruise ship industry will establish a central core of destination visitors serving Whistler Rail Tours," according to a report prepared by the Nita Lake Lodge Corporation – a partner in Whistler Rail Tours – on the impact of Whistler Rail Tours service.

The cruise ship market is the initial target for Whistler Rail Tours. The number of cruise ship passengers sailing in or out of Vancouver in 2000 was just over 1 million. That figure is expected to grow to 1.5 million by 2010.

Whistler Rail Tours expects to serve 90,000 passengers in 2005, its first full year of service. That total is expected to grow to 151,000 by 2010.

The study anticipates rail visitors will spend $370 per person per night when in Whistler. Total rail visitor spending in Whistler in 2005 is expected to be $33.3 million, growing to $56 million by 2010.

While the provincial government is entertaining offers to operate the freight-rail service on BC Rail tracks, a proviso in the proposal call states that: "Third-party passenger train operators must be accommodated through access to the BC Rail network on reasonable commercial terms."

While Whistler Rail Tours is to date the only company that has publicly expressed an interest in running a passenger service on BC Rail tracks, there may eventually be others – particularly if the line is extended to connect with other rail lines in the Interior and north of the province.

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