Whistler businesses show little interest in train workshop 

Northern B.C. excited about Great Canadian Railtour service

Whistler businesses have largely missed out on an opportunity to sell and market their products alongside a tourist train that will start serving the resort in 2006.

A workshop hosted by the Great Canadian Railtour Company at the beginning of November only attracted 13 businesses to discuss potential partnerships between local tour operators and the tourist train.

Of the six workshops held across the province to date, Whistler’s had the smallest turnout. The same workshop in Prince George drew upwards of 60 business representatives, and workshops in 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Quesnel attracted more than 30.

"We didn’t have as large a turnout as we’d hoped (in Whistler)," said Graham Gilley, vice president marketing and communications with GCRC. "But it was a good group and we were able to update everybody as to the progress of where we are with our equipment, our planning, and our operations and some of the things that we see down the road as far as timelines go. It was very worthwhile."

Among the businesses that did take part in the workshop were Whistler Air, Cougar Mountain, Whistler-Blackcomb, the Pemberton Valley Lodge, Whistler.com and Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures.

Jeannette Nadon, marketing and sales manager with Callaghan Country, said she was surprised there weren’t more people at the meeting, in particular she noticed the conspicuous absence of the hotel sector. Nevertheless, she found the workshop very worthwhile.

"It was quite a fruitful meeting," said Nadon. "I was very impressed with the level of research and planning that’s already gone into their business plan."

Though she recognizes that there are no guarantees GCRC will partner with Callaghan Country, she’s excited about the possibility of developing summer packages for train visitors.

"My primary interest was just in developing a day program to get people from the train up to the lodge for hiking and lunch and that sort of thing," she said.

GCRC plans to launch its first tourist train in May 2006. The trains will bring tourists from Vancouver to Whistler on a three-hour scenic journey once a day. A second train route will run from Whistler to Jasper, Alberta with an overnight stop in Prince George.

Nadon said the tight timeline most likely means Callaghan Country will not be able to market with GCRC for the 2006 season. Still, the company is looking down the road for long-term business opportunities.

"…Hopefully other Whistler operators will get on board because I think it’s a good opportunity for the entire community," she said.

Gilley attributes the poor turnout in Whistler to a lack of advertising about the workshop but said GCRC would be willing to come back if there is interest in the community.

"Certainly, if need be, we will get back up there and we’ll do it again," he said.

He noted that some of the northern communities have followed up with more specific workshops to define which operators in the region are interested in partnerships.

"I think a lot of people have seen us as maybe the catalyst or maybe a conduit to get things going (in the north) and to get discussions opened up," said Gilley.

GCRC plans to hold two more workshops in the next week in Squamish and North Vancouver. The Squamish workshop will take place on Monday, Nov. 22 at the Mac Norris Station in the West Coast Heritage Park from 1 to 3 p.m. Contact Karen Hodson at 604-892-9244 or e-mail admin@squamish.com to register. The North Vancouver workshop will take place on Friday, Nov. 26.

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