Australia holds Rocky Mountaineer on track

One of the most acclaimed scenic rail journeys in the world has pinned its success on the Australian market, president of the Rocky Mountaineer Steve Sammut has remarked.

Heading into its 20th season of operation, the Rocky Mountaineer continues to be a preferred means for Aussies to explore the Canadian Rockies, with Australia the company’s second biggest market. Only Canada’s nearest neighbour, the USA, generates a larger volume of passengers boarding either its GoldLeaf or SilverLeaf railcars between Vancouver and the towns of Jasper and Banff.

In Sydney to meet with trade partners in late March, Sammut told travelBulletin Australia was Rocky Mountaineer’s “most consistent market. It just constantly delivers”.

Sammut heralded the support from the travel trade, especially when times have been tough.

“Our company probably wouldn’t even exist without the Australian market. Especially if you go back to times like the Global Financial Crisis. You know, for a period of time it was the market that actually sustained us. With all else that was happening in the world, the Australians just kept on coming and we’re lucky for that.”

Such is its popularity, Rocky Mountaineer continues to expand its season with earlier and later departures. “August and September are huge months where we sell out early. If we had more cars we would be selling them,” Sammut said, adding that April and October were increasingly popular because of the increased wildlife spotting opportunities.

Last year was Rocky Mountaineer’s first operating season without the economically priced RedLeaf railcars, a product that was highly favoured by tour operators but was essentially a 1950s product. And while there may have been initial trepidation by some partners at the loss of RedLeaf, the SilverLeaf panoramic ‘demi-dome’ replacement (and upgrade) has been “enthusiastically embraced,” vice president — global sales, Karen Hardie told travelBulletin.

“RedLeaf was a product they knew and liked. It had an easy and acceptable price within broader packages, particularly tour operators.” Originally offered from Vancouver to Whistler, SilverLeaf was so well received it made sense to evolve the product and utilise it on its primary extended touring routes. “It’s so far beyond what RedLeaf was, that we now never hear about it,” Hardie said.

On the topic of upgrades, next year will see the roll out of the first GoldLeaf carriages designed and engineered in Switzerland by Stadler after Rocky’s previous US-based supplier went bust during the GFC. To be assembled in Switzerland and Germany, four European-built railcars will arrive in 2018 and an additional six at a later stage, Sammut revealed.

Sammut told travelBulletin that aesthetically, the new coaches will resemble those of its 16 existing GoldLeaf domes which are mid-way through a refresh of their own. “The differences will be almost indistinguishable with a lot of the improvements internal.”

At about CAD$3.5 million per railcar, the GoldLeaf upgrades include improved air-conditioning systems, sound systems, galley & kitchen refits and modernisation, such as seat heating and USB charging ports for electronic devices.