Rocky Mountaineer reprises success

After last year's attempt at direct marketing delivered an impressive return on investment, Rocky Mountaineer Railtours - which provides tourists with scenic train trips through the Canadian Rockies - is on track to reprise that success this spring....

After last year’s attempt at direct marketing delivered an impressive return on investment, Rocky Mountaineer Railtours – which provides tourists with scenic train trips through the Canadian Rockies – is on track to reprise that success this spring.

Conceived by Vancouver’s Bryant, Fulton & Shee, this year’s direct mail effort builds on a campaign last spring that saw packages or postcards delivered to some 20,000 Americans who had requested further information about the company’s offerings. The company primed the direct mail pump with ads in magazines such as Time, Reader’s Digest and Condé Nast Traveler.

The new campaign, which is going out to 40,000 U.S. prospects – double the number of the original mailing – is being targeted to three different segments: those who received a postcard, but didn’t book a trip, those who requested a package but didn’t book a trip, and a third group derived from a rented list.

‘What we wanted to do was provide [prospects] a nudge and tell them, ‘We’re still here, we haven’t heard from you in a while,” says Graham Gilley, vice-president of marketing at Rocky Mountaineer, which is owned and operated by the Great Canadian Railtour Company of Vancouver.

That the upscale tour company is opting for a follow-up to last year’s campaign is not surprising. According to Gilley, direct mail was responsible for 17% of all bookings last year.

‘It was unprecedented – we didn’t expect it to make up one-fifth of our sales after only six weeks.’

As a result of last year’s effort, 511 consumers from 37 states signed up for the two-day daylight tours between Vancouver and Jasper, and Banff and Calgary. Trains run from mid-April to mid-October, as well as in mid-December, and the average price tag is more than $1,200 per person.

Seventy-five per cent of last year’s prospects received the control package (a large envelope containing a letter and a 48-page brochure), while 25% were mailed a postcard test. Both featured the same scene – a picturesque image of a train chugging alongside a stream in the Rockies, under the words ‘Mother Nature has been perfecting this view for 25,000 years. Let us show you it was worth the wait.’

Both the package and the postcard invited those who booked by May 31 to enter a draw to win the rail portion of the trip for free, which has a value of anywhere between $500 and $2,500. There were three winners.

While the postcard delivered a slightly better return on investment than the control package – which came in at 27 to 1 – Gilley says the package attained a considerably higher response rate: 1.23% for the package compared to about 0.8% for the postcard, making it the logical choice for this year’s effort.

Gilley attributes the package’s higher response rate to its ability to answer a lot of questions up front, a key factor when dealing in high-end products and services.

‘We’re not selling cereal here,’ says Gilley. ‘It’s something that the target market has a lot of questions about. ‘How much is it going to cost? How am I going to get back? What am I going to wear?’ It’s not an impulse purchase, it’s planned.’

Targeted at empty nesters aged 55 and over, last year’s effort tracked response rates by directing consumers to two separate 1-800 numbers.

The new campaign will use only the package, says Maureen Patterson, account director for Rocky Mountaineer at Bryant, Fulton & Shee, with a new covering letter.

‘Since we found a control package that works well, this is the logical next step,’ she says. ‘If it’s successful, next year we will expand the program and rent lists in all of the target markets.’

As for why Rocky Mountaineer is focusing exclusively on the U.S., Gilley says, ‘We don’t have the critical mass in Canada, and we wanted to focus on one country where we could get the best response.’