For years, one of the big debates in Revelstoke has been, “How do we get people off the highway?” Thousands of people drive through town on the Trans-Canada Highway every day, but most of them either zip on by, or don’t make it past the railway overpass on Victoria Road.
All sorts of ideas have been proposed but, it turns out, Revelstoke Mountain Resort found the answer: The Pipe, a three minute coaster ride down the lower portion of the resort.
“We’ve already passed 100,000 unique visits for summer operations this year,” said Peter Nielsen, RMR’s vice-president of operations.
“We’re more than double our projection for year one.”
To say The Pipe has been a success is an understatement. The video preview drew millions of eyeballs and those views turned into visitors. People drove to Revelstoke to ride the coaster, and were willing to wait for hours for the fast ride through the trees and open slopes on the lower mountain.
And they loved it. Reviewers may have complained about the waits, but it generally didn’t diminish their enjoyment of the ride.
“For us, a two hour drive there, two hour wait, and two hour drive back all for four minutes was still worth it, but I would recommend that you consider travel and wait times before visiting this attraction,” wrote one reviewer on Trip Advisor.
It was such a hit that the biggest problem the resort had to deal with was managing the crowds. RMR’s social media was a stream of updates on wait times – two, three, even four hour waits on most days.
“The way we projected it was for steady growth over three years, and we maxed out immediately, and even beyond our expectations for year three,” said Nielsen. “It exploded out of the gates and didn’t stop.”
To improve the experience, the resort’s IT team developed a number system for the ride. People would show up with a ticket, take a number and then have an idea of how long they would wait.
Hats off to our ops team who came up with the system, designed it, wrote the software and made it happen,” said Nielsen. “And it worked.”
The fact people had to wait meant there were spinoffs at the resort and in town. With hundreds of people looking for something to do, they drove into town to go for lunch and check out the town.
“The town did seem a lot busier and we related it 100 per cent to the Pipe,” said Brady Beruschi, the manager of the Regent and Best Western. “We figured that’s probably what happened.”
He said hotels were just as busy as usual in the summer, but that numbers at the River City Pub were up.
That feeling is reflected by the numbers of tourists who stopped by the Visitor Information Centre. They were over 2015 numbers by 21 per cent in June, 23 per cent in July, 40 per cent in August and 13 per cent in September. More than 43,000 people walked through the doors of the VIC in those four months this summer compared to about 34,000 in 2015.
“A term would be ‘Off the hook,’” said Thom Tischik, the marketing manager for the Revelstoke Accommodation Association. “I think it was probably one of the busiest summers we ever had here.”
Want more numbers? According to BC Stats, hotel room revenue was up to $2,247,000 in June 2016 compared to $1,845,000 in June 2015. July saw a similar increase, with hotel room revenue at $3.8 million, up from $3.1 million the same month a year before.
“They’re up so high, we’re suspicious if they’re accurate,” said Tischik.
How much of that is due to The Pipe? There’s no doubt the coaster boosted visitor numbers, but how much is the question. Revelstoke has seen increases in tourism since RMR opened in 2007, but this summer’s numbers are undoubtedly higher than usual, and the growth is beyond previous trends. Meghan Tabor, the marketing coordinator for Revelstoke Tourism, said about a third of tourists at the visitor centre inquired about The Pipe.
The numbers resulted in spinoffs at Revelstoke’s cultural attractions, which people visited while waiting for their ride.
“Jennifer Dunkerson from the Revelstoke Railway Museum said her visitation in the summer went up considerably because people were looking for other things to do while waiting for their Pipe adventure,” said Tischik.
Added Tabor: “She mentioned that was the same across all the cultural experiences – the dam, the forestry museum, the museum & archives – they were all seeing that as well.”
Restaurant owners generally reported being busier. “I talked to other restaurants and everyone said they had a pretty strong summer in food & beverage,” said Beruschi. “It seems like the consensus was The Pipe brought a ton of people to town.”
One thing it hasn’t really done is change the length of visits to Revelstoke in the summer, said Beruschi. He said most of their guests in summer only stay for one night, whereas in winter they attract people for days at a time. “They’re coming to Revelstoke, spending the night, we’re going to hit The Pipe and we’re going to to keep going,” he said.
At the resort, they had added new attractions, like the Euro-bungie, a cross between a trampoline and a bungie jump, and they built a frisbee golf course above the day lodge. Nielsen said it was always in the plans to offer more attractions at the resort.
“When we went out to get (The Pipe), we wanted to find an experience that would appeal to 99 per cent of the population,” he said. “It’s the anchor tenant in your mall, the grocery store everyone wants to go to. Then we build on our activity base from that.”
The resort is hoping to build on this year’s success by expanding summer operations in 2017. The big news, that Nielsen confirmed, is that the upper gondola will open for hiking and sight seeing next year. “We’re looking at some other options but we haven’t firmed anything up yet,” he said.
He didn’t confirm or deny the widespread rumours that RMR is building a second coaster. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said.
“We’re exploring a few different options for what we might do next year,” he added. “Summer activities at ski resorts are a real growth sector in the industry right now. There’s a lot of new and interesting concepts in the market place. We’re looking at everything. We’ll see what fits our brand. We’d love to duplicate our success with the coaster.”
At Revelstoke Tourism, Tabor said they continue to focus on bringing in big events. Next summer, the TransBC Enduro race is finishing in Revelstoke, and a new five-day stage running race called TranSelkirks is coming to town.
There’s also a big push being planned around Canada’s 150th anniversary.
“We’re looking at highlighting 150 things to do in Revelstoke and putting some money towards that campaign,” said Tabor.