Member Profile | The Great Canadian Railtour Company
The Great Canadian Railtour Company is an RAC member that operates a tourist railway offering luxury getaways under the Rocky Mountaineer brand. Canadian operations resumed July 5th after a COVID-induced hiatus with several new measures introduced to keep all aboard safe. We recently spoke with Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Southern (MS) about the pandemic’s toll and what it took to get running again.
RAC: How did COVID impact Rocky Mountaineer and its employees?
MS: The pandemic dealt a disastrous blow to travel and tourism companies throughout Canada and Rocky Mountaineer was no exception. Pre-pandemic, our workforce was 700 strong during the 2019 operating season. We now have around 175 year-round employees, and these are highly skilled jobs in marketing, analytics, finance, trades and more. In preparation to restart operations in Canada on July 5, we were able to rehire some of our seasonal team members for the 2021 operating season.
RAC: We know tourism operators across Canada and around the world have been among the hardest hit businesses. How did you manage to get through the worst health and economic crisis most of us have ever experienced?
MS: The travel restrictions meant we had to suspend the entire 2020 season as well as the first part of the 2021 season. Being unable to operate means we did not see revenue for more than 20 months and are likely looking at another year before we could see meaningful revenue again. As with many other tourism operators, we had to scale back our operations and staff levels during 2020, but this also gave us time to focus on coming out of the pandemic stronger than ever. We were able to work on bringing our first standalone route in the USA to life; Rockies to the Red Rocks launched earlier this month. We also improved and refined internal processes and implemented a high level of COVID-related protocols across all operations.
RAC: What have the early stages of recovery looked like for Rocky Mountaineer?
MS: With domestic travel expected to recover first, we focused on reaching more Canadians to encourage them to consider travelling with us this summer and fall. We introduced a new partnership with Aeroplan and several special promotions exclusively for Canadians to encourage travel this summer. Rockies to the Red Rocks has allowed us to reach our guests in the United States who are more comfortable travelling within their own country at this time.
RAC: What COVID protocols have you implemented to ensure the safety of your team and passengers?
MS: We looked at every aspect of our operations to consider what we needed to modify to meet the regulations and guidelines associated with COVID-19. On our Canadian routes, this means every guest and team member travelling on the train undergoes extensive health screening, including a rapid COVID-19 screening test before the start of the train journey. Our rail 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 have thorough sanitization and disinfection procedures in place and have added glass barriers between tables in the dining room. These are some of the many modifications we have made to provide guests, partners, and community members with more comfort and confidence on their travels.
RAC: You operate across several different health jurisdictions in two countries, with a heavily international client base. What have those realities meant for you and your team?
MS: Our team has done a fantastic job of keeping up with the ever-changing regulations across the health regions and countries we operate in. The guidelines and regulations have evolved many times since the start of the pandemic, and our team has been vigilant in adapting our processes and providing our employees and guests with the most up-to-date information possible. The health and safety of those who travel with us has always been our top priority. Our guests, partners, and team members can be confident that we will meet and exceed all health and safety requirements.
RAC: What has RAC membership meant for you and your business over this very difficult period?
MS: The RAC team has been a good resource for our team as we navigated the regulatory requirements associated with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. We appreciate the RAC team’s commitment to lobbying the federal government to support rail tourism in their recovery plans, and for the information, resources, and advice they have provided as our industry adapts to this new normal across our operations.
RAC: What is the outlook for tourism rail in Canada/North America, given the events of the last 18 months?
MS: We are seeing a pent-up demand for travel – people are itching to get back to travelling. However, we believe it will take several years to return to our pre-pandemic levels. We are seeing an increased interest in slower travel and greater awareness of conscious, sustainable travel, all of which are provided by our luxury train journeys. We know safety will be paramount to our operations and we will continue to look for ways to provide the safe and exceptional service Rocky Mountaineer is known for as guests return to rail travel.