KAMLOOPS — The atmosphere onboard the Rocky Mountaineer on July 5 was more festive than usual – and for good reason. The journey from Kamloops marked the iconic rail company’s first since the start of the global pandemic.
Speaking exclusively with Travelweek, Nicole Ford, Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations at Rocky Mountaineer says the day was exciting for everyone, with “so many smiles and photos being taken as guests climbed onboard the train.” The two-day ‘First Passage to the West departed Kamloops for Banff, with 85 passengers and company founder Peter Armstrong onboard to officially launch the 2021 season.
And though the active wildfires in B.C. impacted the first leg of the journey, forcing guests to board a host-guided motorcoach to Kamloops where they boarded the train to Banff, Ford says nothing could have dampened the spirit of the day.
“I was there to wave-off the train with several other team members and we stood on the platform watching the train until it was out of sight,” she says. “It was simply heartwarming to see guests departing on the train for the first time in 21 months.”
Like many travel companies, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Rocky Mountaineer to suspend all operations in 2020. And since the company operates on a seasonal schedule, it hasn’t embarked on a rail journey since the end of its 2019 season – until now.
“The past year has been extremely challenging for tourism as a whole and for Rocky Mountaineer,” added Ford. “Our team is excited to be back doing what we do best, which is hosting guests on our trains to experience some of the most compelling scenery in Western Canada. Seeing the train departing Kamloops was an emotional moment for everyone involved and we can’t wait to welcome more guests onboard this summer.
Here’s more of our interview with Ford:
Travelweek: What new safety protocols have been implemented, and do you think Rocky Mountaineer will one day have a vaccination mandate for passengers?
Ford: We looked at every aspect of our operations to consider what we needed to modify to meet the regulations, guidelines and recommendations associated with COVID-19. Every guest and team member travelling on the train will undergo daily health screening and a rapid COVID-19 screening test before the start of the train journey. We have thorough sanitization and disinfection procedures in place. Our train cars are equipped with high-end air filtration systems that remove 99.9% of airborne viruses and bacteria, and ensure a steady intake and circulation of fresh air. We also adjusted our operations to ensure more space between travel groups and added glass barriers between tables in the dining room. We do not require guests to be vaccinated to travel with us; however, all guests must adhere to our screening and health and safety procedures. These are some of the modifications we have made – and there are many more – to provide guests, partners and community members with more comfort and confidence during their travels.
TW: What percentage of your operations do you anticipate to be up and running for the remained of 2021?
Ford: We are running a reduced schedule for July as we ramp up operations to our full schedule from August until the end of the season in October. In addition to our three routes in Western Canada, we will be launching a new route in the Southwest USA in August. The Rockies to the Red Rocks route is a two-day rail journey between Moab, Utah, and Denver, Colorado, with an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Our team is preparing for a busy summer!
TW: Have there been any changes made to itineraries and/or onboard facilities as a result of travel restrictions and new protocols? What can passengers expect now?
Ford: The overall onboard experience that Rocky Mountaineer is known for has not changed. Guests will continue to enjoy attentive service and entertaining stories from our onboard hosts, along with meals that reflect the flavours and ingredients of the region, while they enjoy the passing scenery from the comfort of our custom-designed train coaches. Our health and safety modifications are in place to protect all who travel with us, so guests can sit back, relax and take in the experience.
TW: What do you want travellers and travel agents to know about the restart?
Ford: We want to assure travellers that, when they are ready to travel, our Rocky Mountaineer team is here to welcome them for a safe and memorable journey. Like all tourism and hospitality businesses, we need Canadians to choose to explore our own country, so we can help the tourism industry recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic. We hope this re-start, coupled with the easing of travel restrictions in Canada, will encourage Canadians to travel with us this summer.
Rocky Mountaineer is offering several special promotions exclusively for Canadians who are looking to travel this summer. The Canadian resident offer allows couples to save up to $1,400 on vacation packages of five days or more, while the Alberta-BC resident offer provides a complimentary voucher to travel again within the next five years when booking a luxury rail journey in 2021. Also available is the Fairmont promotion, which offers savings of up to $2,900 per couple on packages that pair the train with overnight stays in Fairmont properties. And lastly, the Aeroplan offer allows Aeroplan members to earn up to 20,000 bonus points with a valid Aeroplan number when booking travel for 2021 with Rocky Mountaineer.
Rocky Mountaineer embarked on its inaugural voyage with every guest and team member undergoing extensive health screening, including a rapid COVID-19 screening test prior to departure. Train cars are also thoroughly sanitized and disinfected, and are equipped with high-end air filtration systems that remove 99.9% of airborne viruses and bacteria. For more information on health and safety protocols click here.