BC Ferries focuses on package tours

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VICTORIA, British Columbia -- BC Ferries is sailing into relatively unchartered waters this year by packaging and promoting multifaceted tour packages to destinations throughout coastal British Columbia and the Gulf Islands.

According to the government-run company, the decision to pursue the tour package market was made to increase passengers and revenue on the line because of its relatively small base of commuter traffic, which is the bread and butter of most ferry companies. "This is the first year we got really aggressive on our own in building these packages," said Bill Bouchard, director of corporate marketing for BC Ferries. "We went to BC Rail and Gray Line and worked with outside people for years for their programs, but these are BC Ferries programs that are new."

Bouchard said the decision to pursue the package market was made easier after the success of an overnight Leonardo da Vinci exhibit tour it packaged with Tourism Victoria last year.

Clients who want a tour combining mainland British Columbia with a scenic cruise along the Inside Passage and an ample dose of Vancouver Island can easily be booked through a new Totem Circle Rail & Cruise package that boasts the services of some of the top transportation and tour companies in the province.

Packaging the Inside Passage, long a favorite of cruise lines sailing to Alaska, is an easy fit for BC Ferries, considering the ample inventory of free scenery offered in the rugged region. "It's the same scenery product that the cruise ships are going through," Bouchard said. "We've been doing the Inside Passage since 1966, so the cruise ships are relatively new."

BC Ferries, of course, can't offer the same degree of luxury available on the major lines, but its Queen of the North vessel -- which plies the waters of the Inside Passage -- does contain inside and outside lounges, a cafeteria, a children's play area and cabins that can be booked ahead of time for about $45 over the base fare.

The Queen of the North can accommodate 800 passengers and 157 vehicles, according to the company.

The line's six-day Totem Circle package, which taps BC Rail, VIA Rail, Laidlaw Coach Lines and Pacific Coach Lines, travels to top scenic attractions that are not typically covered together by individual companies. "Totem Circle has been sold that way for years," Bouchard said, "but the rail and cruise is brand new this year."

The tour includes accommodations and a 15-hour BC Ferries voyage between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, aboard the Queen of the North vessel, as well as the shorter ferry transit between Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The tour begins in North Vancouver, with a ride aboard BC Rail's Cariboo Prospector train to the central British Columbia town of Prince George. After an overnight, clients board VIA Rail's Skeena train (which originates in the Canadian Rockies town of Jasper, Alberta) for an excursion to the central British Columbia coastal town of Prince Rupert, where they stay the night.

From Prince Rupert, the tour embarks on the daylight Inside Passage cruise aboard the Queen of the North, which ends in the northern Vancouver Island town of Port Hardy. After an overnight in Port Hardy, the tour continues with a motorcoach drive on Laidlaw Coach Lines to Victoria, where highlights include a full-day tour of the British Columbia capital and a visit to nearby Butchart Gardens. The tour ends with a motorcoach transfer and BC Ferries ride back to Vancouver.

Accommodations throughout the tour are in the small properties typically found in the more remote areas of British Columbia.

Prices for the package, which is available between June 1 and Sept. 30, start at about $575 per person, double.

BC Ferries is promoting a 20% discount on Port Hardy-Prince Rupert voyages departing until June 14, and between Sept. 15 and Oct. 20. The fare for two adults with a car is about $227 during this time, and is fully commissionable to travel agents.

BC Ferries also teamed with Vancouver-based Gray Line Vacations to promote a five-day, self-guided tour of the Inside Passage and Vancouver Island. Starting at about $400 per person, double, through Sept. 28, the tour includes ferry transportation with a private cabin, accommodations in Port Hardy and Victoria, transfers between the ship and hotel in Port Hardy, and taxes.

The tour starts in Vancouver, where clients board a motorcoach that is loaded on a BC Ferries vessel for a sail through the Gulf Islands to Victoria. After an overnight, the tour continues with a motorcoach ride up Vancouver Island to Port Hardy, where the Queen of the North embarks on the Inside Passage route to Port Hardy the next day.

The tour concludes with a sail back to Port Hardy, including another overnight, and a drive to the Vancouver Island town Nanaimo for a coach transfer and BC Ferries ride through the Strait of Georgia back to Vancouver.

Yet another package from BC Ferries partners the line with 20 hotels and resorts and 10 golf courses on Vancouver Island for overnight packages that include a round of golf.

BC Ferries, Phone: (250) 386-3431, Fax: (250) 388-7754, Web: www.bcferries.com

Gray Line Vacations, Phone: (800) 667-0882 or (604) 879-9287, Fax: (604) 879-1105, Web: www.grayline.ca/vacations

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