The loss of the 2020 Rocky Mountaineer travel season is poised to leave a 10 per cent hole in Kamloops’ tourism economy, according to Tourism Kamloops.
The rail tour company opted to cancel its 30th season due to the COVID-19 pandemic after delaying its start four times in recent months.
Tourism Kamloops spokeswoman Monica Dickinson said the cancellation is a significant loss to the local tourism industry. The Rocky Mountaineer brings about 100,000 visitors — about as many people as Kamloops’ population — to town in an average six-month season.
Dickinson said guests of the Rocky Mountaineer spend about $50 million in Kamloops — about a tenth of the estimated $500 million spent by tourists in the city each year.
“When you look at that framework, it’s significant,” Dickinson said.
Rocky Mountaineer riders are also predominantly international guests who tend to spend more than other visitors, Dickinson said.
“That’s why that economic impact is quite a bit,” she said.
Dickinson said Tourism Kamloops was “cautiously optimistic” Rocky Mountaineer would be able to operate at some point this year, but the decision to cancel the season isn’t surprising given the majority of their passengers are international travellers.
The Rocky Mountaineer also hoped it could operate its routes — two of which go directly through Kamloops — at some point in 2020, having made modifications across its operations to align with government guidelines and industry best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
However, continuing health restrictions and uncertainty surrounding travel restrictions left the company no choice but to postpone all rail tours for the remainder of the 2020 travel season.
“In the coming months, we will work with our guests and travel partners to rebook their travels from this year, and then shift our focus to our 2021 season,” Steve Sammut, Rocky Mountaineer’s president and CEO, said in a news release.
“When we do operate our trains, the health and safety of our guests and team members will be at the forefront.”
Guests who booked 2020 tours will receive a 110 per cent travel credit valid until the end of the 2022 season.
The Rocky Mountaineer employs between 60 and 65 full-time staff in Kamloops, with an additional 30 to 40 seasonal workers.
Dickinson said the tourism industry is expected to take two to three years to recover.
Kamloops is also home to Rocky Mountaineer’s maintenance, rail operations, engineering, finance, human resources and training teams.
Rocky Mountaineer operates from mid-April to mid-October on three routes through B.C. and Alberta. Tens of thousands of people come to Kamloops aboard its trains each year, with the vast majority staying one night.
The company, which draws international tourists for a glimpse of Western Canada’s Rocky Mountains, estimated it generated between $47 and $49 million of spending in Kamloops in 2017 — figures based on company and passenger spending.
Overall, Kamloops’ tourism industry was “completely decimated” at the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, Dickinson said, adding that since phase three of B.C.’s restart plan there’s been an increase in hotel visits — which is being credited largely to interprovincial travel.
The hotel occupancy rate in Kamloops is about 40 per cent — a figure that usually hovers around the 90-per-cent mark in July and August.
“Our industry is suffering greatly right now,” Dickinson said.
She said hotel occupancy rates in March and April were in single digits to about 10 per cent, mostly because many hotels were housing essential employees and construction workers.
Ordinarily those months generate an occupancy rate in the 40 per cent mark.
The Rocky Mountaineer is expected to return for its 2021 season.
—This story was corrected from an earlier version that stated the Rocky Mountaineer has four routes. It in fact currently has three as its cross-border route to Seattle ended after the 2019 season.