By Gretchen Wehmhoff
White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) announced it would be suspending their one-day train/land excursions this summer in order to avoid major delays and backups at the U.S. – Canada border stations.
The decision wasn’t easy according to Tyler Rose, executive director of human resources and strategic planning for WP&YR.
“After quite a few months of really trying to make it go and have that service to Carcross and Fraser … for a variety of factors and challenges, we were unable to do it,” Rose said.
Prior to the pandemic, WP&YR partnered with local tour companies to create a one-day trip where the train took passengers to either Fraser or Carcross to disembark and load onto buses for the trip back to Skagway or other sightseeing destinations. Customers who came up the highway on a tour bus would load onto the train for the return trip.
Border crossings were simple as agents walked onto the train or bus to check passports.
Now, with Canada requiring everyone to upload both their passport images and vaccination information in the app, “ArriveCan,” things take longer. The app creates a QR code that needs to be scanned. At this point there is no portable scanner to carry through the train or motor coach.
“So we ended up coming to the decision [to suspend the route] that we really couldn’t risk the passengers’ experience … It was really disappointing, certainly for everyone. But that was the decision that we came to, and put that announcement out to everybody and have been talking to partners and different people, the community and just to let everyone know, because we know that that will have an effect on a lot of different businesses and people,” Rose said.
“We had 20 tours booked and had to go back and talk to our customers,” Beyond Skagway Tours (BST) operations manager, Tim Sislo said.
Sislo said the cancellation of the one-day excursions changed the way they are going to do business this summer. After BST contacted their customers, several of the passengers modified their tour to skip the train, some canceled altogether. The company had to redo their tour packages to accommodate the change. BST will continue their bus trips to Canada.
“Our buses only hold 11 passengers so the border crossings won’t be a big problem,” he said.
Sislo said the ArriveCan app has become more friendly for tourists on long trips. Last year the app had to be completed within 72 hours of travel. Travelers can now complete it within two weeks, even before their trip.
Crossing the border with passengers is available this year due to negotiation and planning with various Canada officials over COVID-19 testing.
“The Canadian government has really done quite a bit of work to try to lessen those restrictions,” Rose said.
Rose credits several entities, “particularly Minister Pillai and MP Hanley. They’ve really done quite a bit to make it possible to transit this season,” he said.
Jacqui Taylor-Rose, manager of marketing and product development for WP&YR is looking to next year.
“I do think Skagway’s in a unique position with the Yukon, it’s such a highlight for people visiting Skagway. The chance to come in to town for the day and step foot in the Yukon Territory (via the one-day excursion) is pretty incredible. And I think we want to get back to that as soon as we can for next season,” she said.
The Holland America website has several tours in late May headed up WP&YR to Carcross where passengers board a motorcoach to Whitehorse and Dawson City. According to the site, the tour would then fly from Dawson City to Fairbanks and head down to Denali National Park via bus to catch the train to Anchorage.
Taylor-Rose, confirmed that some trains will go to Canada as part of the Holland America land tour program.
“Guests will be disembarking the cruise ships in Skagway, they typically have an overnight or two in town, then they will use our summit excursion – that round trip first 20 miles to ride the train – and then they will be using the large motor coaches to take them through the border crossing north and on to destinations in the Yukon including Dawson City.” she said.
Taylor-Rose shared that this year, in response to feedback from the business community, WP&YR will share a schedule of departures and arrivals at the train depot.