Whistler Rail Tours preparing to go north 

Deal with VIA, opening of Prince Rupert cruise ship facility expands tourism opportunities

A new partnership between Whistler Rail Tours and VIA Rail, and the opening of a new cruise ship terminal in Prince Rupert hold promise for the future of tourism throughout B.C.

Whistler Rail Tours recently signed a memorandum of understanding with VIA Rail to operate a luxury passenger rail service along the BC Rail tracks. The Vancouver-Whistler run will be the first route offered by the partners, but VIA wants to expand the rail service to Prince George, to connect with its Jasper-Prince Rupert Skeena train as early as next spring.

That would coincide with the opening of a new $9 million cruise ship facility in Prince Rupert next spring.

"This essentially completes the loop," said Jennifer Beresford, director of business development for Whistler Rail Tours.

"This directly plays to the province’s tourism initiative and to the province’s heartland strategy."

Last week VIA hosted Whistler Rail Tours and tourism and local government officials on its Skeena train. Among the guests was Mike Duggan, chair of Tourism BC and general manager of the Pan Pacific Lodge Whistler.

"There’s a phenomenal opportunity with the new cruise ship facility in Prince Rupert," Duggan said.

Cruise ship passengers will be able to enter the province from Prince Rupert or Vancouver and travel through the Interior of the province by train, before or after their voyage to Alaska.

"It’s a great opportunity for tour packages," Duggan said.

"There’s huge support for Whistler Rail Tours in the north," Beresford added. "This is very, very positive for Whistler Rail Tours."

Whistler Rail Tours has been in the local news for the last 18 months or so in connection with the Nita Lake Lodge development, which will include a train station at Whistler Creek. John Haibeck is the president of the Nita Lake Lodge Corp. and CEO of Whistler Rail Tours.

Luxury rail excursions for cruise ship passengers have been offered in Alaska for years. CruiseShipCenters International, a Lower Mainland firm that markets and sells cruise ship vacations, partnered with Whistler Rail Tours to develop a rail excursion from Vancouver to Whistler. With VIA now part of the package and the Prince Rupert facility opening next year, the opportunity to extend the train service to the north of the province has opened up.

"In our view it is important to offer a ‘loop service’ between Vancouver and Prince Rupert," a statement from Whistler Rail Tours and CruiseShipCenters states. "Passengers can then be offered many alternative excursions involving combinations of cruise ship and luxury tourist train service without the need to return to their destination along the same route."

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