By Vivian Moreau
With three times as many passengers booked as they had at this time last year, Whistler Mountaineer operators are expecting another stellar summer for the popular train.
“We substantially exceeded our expectations last year and we’re not planning a significant growth over last year but certainly the numbers are coming in very strong,” said Ian Robertson, Rocky Mountaineer Vacations’ sustainable development director.
Daily service between Vancouver and Whistler begins May 1.
In its inaugural year Whistler Mountaineer exceeded its projected passenger count of 36,000 by more than 16,000 during its six months of operation. Robertson said the company expects similar numbers this summer as it continues to appeal to a young, urban clientele, but the company will broaden its marketing within that group. It will target urban singles, young families and the lucrative gay and lesbian market this year.
“Certainly just with Whistler itself it tends to attract a younger urban crowd and we found that the demographic of the guest travelling on the Whistler Mountaineer last year was younger than on the Rocky Mountaineer,” Robertson said.
In addition to a B.C. residents’ price break, up from last year’s $99 return trip price to $149 in refurbished vintage coaches, the Whistler Mountaineer will leave Whistler half an hour later than last year’s schedule.
Rocky Mountaineer operates three other B.C. train excursions: from Vancouver to Banff and Calgary and from Vancouver to Jasper, both with overnight stays in Kamloops, and a third run from Vancouver to Jasper via Whistler with an overnight stay in Quesnel.
Although 3,000 passengers stayed overnight in Whistler after arriving via the Mountaineer, Robertson said the company has realized same-day travellers make up the bulk of passengers.
“The first year we didn’t know what to expect but we found there were many more day trippers than expected, so we’ve made adjustments for that,” he said.
Tourism Whistler says visitor surveys conducted in the resort last summer showed a substantial increase in day visitors and they attribute that to the Whistler Mountaineer.
“The good thing about that is that by exposing more folks to the Whistler experience what we’re hoping to do is not only encourage folks to re-visit Whistler but equally important is to have that word-of-mouth impact,” said Tourism Whistler spokesperson Breton Murphy. “So that the folks who are leaving Whistler are influencing others in their travel circles, whether it’s in the U.K., Australia or other parts of North America.”
Robertson said a 3 p.m. departure will allow guests returning to Vancouver the same day that much more time to enjoy Whistler.
Whistler Mountaineer will operate from May 1 to mid-October and may again host special runs during the Christmas season.