Rocky Mountaineer, as seen above travelling through Kamloops on a previous spectacular summer day, draws millions of dollars annually to the Kamloops area, in addition to employing dozens of local workers. The rail-tour company is marking its 30th anniversary in 2020, when the pandemic led to cancellation of tours this year. (Kamloops This Week file photo)

Rocky Mountaineer expecting it to take years to rebuild business battered by pandemic

Despite having a suite of COVID-19 protocols to implement, the company decided not to operate in 2020

  • Sep. 3, 2020 7:10 a.m.

–– Kamloops This Week

The president and CEO of the Rocky Mountaineer said the rail tour company can weather the loss of the 2020 season, but noted it will take years to rebuild the business.

“We were spending tens of millions of dollars on marketing in Western Canada. We will not be anywhere near that for a few years after this,” Rocky Mountaineer president and chief executive officer Steve Sammut told KTW.

Despite having a suite of COVID-19 protocols to implement, the rail tour company decided not to operate in 2020 and let go about a quarter of its 325-person workforce, while another 25 per cent was given temporary layoffs.

The remaining 162 staff have seen reductions in hours, wages and benefits.

Sammut said the layoffs were difficult to make, but had to be done as the company has already spent money on marketing, but is not bringing in any revenue for 2020.

“That’s what hurts the most, because we have a great team,” he said.

The company hires an additional 500 seasonal employees annually, but due to the pandemic, about 95 per cent were not brought in.

“I think 80 per cent of them were planning to come back from last season, so all these people who were counting on working with us, we don’t have anything for them,” Sammut said.

The Rocky Mountaineer employs between 60 and 65 full-time staff in Kamloops, with an additional 30 to 40 seasonal workers.

Sammut was unsure of the number of Kamloops-specific layoffs.

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.

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 agency noted 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.

The company obtained additional financing from lenders and nixed external contracts. Sammut is confident the firm has taken the right steps to be able to weather the financial hit in 2020.

Sammut said the 2020 season had to be cancelled because current travel restrictions under COVID-19 and shaken traveller confidence hindered about 85 per cent of the customer base — international travellers who faced deterrents such as limited flight options and two-week quarantines.

In addition, the company didn’t believe it would be able to generate enough demand selling solely to Canadians.

“Canadians are also afraid to travel right now,” Sammut noted.

Sammut said Rocky Mountaineer had at least 70 per cent of its projected sales for the year in place by early March, when the pandemic was declared, as trips are often booked up to18 months in advance.

“Then everything just fell off a ledge,” he said, noting those completed sales won’t be revenue until those guests travel on the Rocky Mountaineer.

The majority of customers have either rebooked or take the credit for a future tour.

Sammut said Rocky Mountaineer’s 325 employees are located between Vancouver and Kamloops, with some sales people working from different parts of the world.

The permanent terminations, he said, were made because the company doesn’t forecast returning to its pre-pandemic operating level, at least not in 2021.

The rail tour company hosts about 100,000 guests per year, but Sammut estimated the number of new travellers next year being about 45,000 due to weakened traveller and customer confidence. Coupled with rebooked guests from 2020, he is hopeful to see about 80,000 people coming through Kamloops next year.

Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey school district student enrolment down from projections

‘That’s not something I can say in my time in Surrey, I have ever said at the board table’: superintendent

Fraser Health relocates Surrey COVID-19 testing centre

New location will triple testing capacity: Dr. Victoria Lee

White Rock acupuncturist suspended for ‘scare tactics, excessive fees’

30-day suspension for Jun Hua (Davy) Hua issued Aug. 18

Latimer Road the latest Surrey school to report COVID-19 exposure

Fraser Health has created a new webpage listing COVID-19 cases in schools

Mother-daughter charged in 2017 torched-SUV killing in South Surrey now allowed contact

Judge grants Manjit Kaur Deo permission to connect with Inderdeep Kaur Deo through a lawyer

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Machine pistol among 14 firearms seized from Alaska man at B.C. border crossing

Corey Scott Kettering faces charges of smuggling and prohibited firearm possession

Most Read