Tourist train company looks for Whistler partners 

GCRC holding workshops for tour operators

Though it’s still a year and a half before a tourist train carries guests to Whistler, the time to market local products with Great Canadian Railtour Company has arrived.

"The model of running the train will not succeed unless you have attractive products surrounding the train trip," said Graham Gilley, vice president, marketing and communications for GCRC.

As promised when they won the highly competitive bid to run the tourist train on the BC Rail tracks now controlled by CN Rail, GCRC is now hosting a series of eight workshops stretching from North Vancouver to Prince George.

"It is designed for primarily tour operators, so those involved within the tourism industry," said Gilley.

"The idea is for us to uncover tourist products that we may not already be aware of and it’s important that we uncover those opportunities as we go forward with our product development."

Gilley explained that the company wants to learn about some of the Whistler attractions, which the GCRC could use to promote their product. At the same time, local tour operators can learn more about the train proposal and sell the train experience along with their product.

"Because it goes both ways… We’re looking for a win-win situation," he said.

"It’s important that we, as Rocky Mountaineer Vacations, learn as much as we can from the region so that our operation, which is set to start in May 2006, is put into a position where it can be sustainable and succeed."

He points out that the Rocky Mountaineer Vacations is not just a train company, rather a vacation provider which oftentimes does not even package vacations with train trips.

"We currently sell vacations that have nothing to do with the train in Tofino, the Sunshine Coast, Nova Scotia, Quebec, so we are in fact a vacation provider who happens to operate trains," said Gilley.

More than one month ago CN announced that GCRC, which operates the highly successful Rocky Mountaineer, had won the rights to operate a tourist train on the BC Rail lines between North Vancouver and Prince George after a lengthy bidding process.

The company plans to operate high-end tourist trains on two routes. The Whistler Mountaineer will be a three-hour scenic journey once a day from North Vancouver to Whistler. The second route will be an expansion of the Rocky Mountaineer, running from Whistler to Jasper, Alberta with an overnight stop in Prince George.

"Whistler is a critical hub for us because both the Whistler Mountaineer and the Rocky Mountaineer will arrive and depart into Whistler, so certainly we’re looking forward to the participation of those who might be interested in being able to partner with us," said Gilley.

The company is currently in discussions with a Colorado railcar manufacturer who will provide the trains. The Whistler Mountaineer will include two single level dome cars as well as an open-air observation car.

Gilley said the company has yet to make a decision on a Whistler station to load and unload its guests, nor have they decided on a station in North Vancouver.

"We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and the product workshops are a means of getting the ball rolling in some areas but we’re certainly working hard on some of the operational issues as well," he said.

In the next months there will be workshops in Whistler, Squamish, and Lillooet, among other locations.

To register for the Whistler workshop on Wednesday, Nov. 3, contact Sebina Begg at 604-606-7274 or e-mail sbegg@rockymountaineer.com The workshop will take place in the Callaghan Room at the Westin Resort & Spa from 9-11 a.m.

The Squamish workshop will take place on Monday, Nov. 22 at the Mac Norris Station in the West Coast Railway Heritage Park from 1 to 3 p.m. Contact Karen Hodson at 604-892-9244 or e-mail admin@squamishchamber.com to register.

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