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Whistler Rail Tours, Via Rail partner in Sea to Sky route

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Via Rail has jumped on board a partnership with Whistler Rail Tours that is set to bring back passenger rail service in the Sea to Sky corridor.

The operating agreement was signed the night before the Chamber of Commerce lunch meeting last Thursday, where representatives from Whistler Rail Tours and Via Rail talked passionately about the prospects of their joint project.

"We at Via Rail are very excited about this newfound partnership," said Ali Macaraeg, manager of market development west for Via Rail Canada.

"It is a great idea for tourism."

At the heart of this "great idea" is the Whistler name brand he said, which is synonymous with world class skiing and a successful mountain resort.

"Capitalizing on Whistler’s fame is key to this," said Macaraeg.

Macaraeg used passenger rail examples in Alberta to illustrate his point.

Rail trips to Banff are not hard to sell he said. On the other hand trips to the lesser-known Jasper are a little harder to market. But with the right programs, marketing and branding, Via Rail has been able to draw people to Jasper via train.

‘Christmas in November’ is a program designed to bring people to the Jasper Park Lodge to learn about new ideas for Christmas crafts and presents. Last year 800 people participated in the program. This year that number has more than doubled to date.

Another initiative was the Winter Touring to Jasper train which was designed to promote the Marmot ski resort as well as market Jasper as a winter wonderland. About four years ago Via decided to revive the program and re-brand it as the Snow Train to Jasper and since then ridership has increased 300 per cent.

Macaraeg said these are just some of examples of what Via Rail and Whistler Rail Tours can do in the future, particularly in light of the fact that there is currently an "unstoppable renaissance in passenger rail," he said.

Under the new operating agreement Via Rail will provide the train crews and maintenance of the equipment and Whistler Rail Tours will provide luxury touring rail cars.

Their goal is to target the 1.125 million cruise ship guests who begin or end their cruise in Vancouver. Almost 750,000 cruise ship guests either embark or disembark in Vancouver.

Less than half of those guests (about 42 per cent) extend their visit in Vancouver by two nights, spending $150 a day.

One the other hand, 12 per cent of passengers extend their cruise in Alaska for almost six days and they spend on average $278 per person each day. Currently only one per cent comes to Whistler and seven per cent visit other areas in B.C.

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