Hundreds of Rocky Mountaineer guests overnighting in Kamloops are finding the experience lacking.
Rocky Mountaineer spokesman Ian Robertson said the company conducts surveys with its customers throughout the train tour's season between April and October.
Last week, he met with tourism and civic officials in Kamloops to talk about some of his clients' comments.
"Guests said in surveys they wanted to get out and experience more of what Kamloops has to offer," he said.
"We've been getting this feedback for years. They'd like to see more restaurants and businesses stay open so when the train does arrive they have something to do."
Problem is, the trains arrive in the late afternoon or early evening, and customers have to be get up for early departures the next morning.
Store owners haven't found it financially worthwhile to extend their business hours. Some restaurants are also closed by the time the tourists get settled in their hotel rooms and head downtown.
Robertson said overall, they report a positive experience in Kamloops, but the lack of entertainment and shopping has left some of them wanting.
"Almost half of our guests on the train are taking Rocky Mountaineer pre or post cruise. They're also the same demographic as cruisers. They expect when the ship comes into port, there are businesses and restaurants open," he said.
"With that in mind, they have the same expectation that when they come into Kamloops there will be a lot of activity and things for them to do."
For many years, the trains arrived from east and west three nights a week. Many of the guests would take in a dinner theatre, but that was discontinued last year.
Each train holds at least 400 or 500 guests, for an estimated total of 50,000 a season. Rocky Mountaineer changed its schedule and now brings in one or two trains, six nights a week. This year's season starts April 23.
"They want to get to the hotel, freshen up, then walk and explore. They don't have dinner on the train, so they're looking for something to eat," he said.
"But we also appreciate the fact local businesses are entrepreneurs and it has to make good business sense for them to stay open."
Brian Kelly of Kelly's Kaboose has stayed open for the trains for as long as he's been in business.
Business was better when the trains came in three nights a week, with bigger crowds milling through the shop until 9 or 10 p.m. But with trains coming every night at varying times, the shoppers aren't coming in the same numbers, he said.
"We stayed open during 2011 even though they did that. In all honesty, for us it was a bit of an unmitigated disaster."
Last year, he didn't stay open late at all. But if people are wandering around, he'll open his doors.
"I did mention to Rocky Mountaineer at the meeting last week that they need to educate their staff on what's happening in Kamloops," he said.
"Years ago, they would bring their onboard staff in three weeks beforehand and tour them through, show them where things were . . . . Last year, people would come into my store and say train staff told them no stores were open."
Gay Pooler of the Kamloops Central Business Improvement area owned the Golden Buddha years ago when some merchants tried one season of staying open late on train nights.
She couldn't afford to pay staff, so she stayed in the store herself. She tracked her sales and found if she had paid out wages, she would have lost money.
"We put a lot of time, energy and money into it. But most of the stores found they just didn't get the return on investment."
Most of the tourists stay in downtown hotels and in the summer months, take in Music in the Park and other events.
But the timing is difficult for some stores and restaurants to work around.
"The problem is even some of the restaurants are closed when the trains are late."
We have to put together something for their customers.
Mayor Peter Milobar said there were also concerns raised about panhandlers. Some of the trains pull in when the stores are closed and the transients are more visible.
"It's all things that you can't dismiss," he said.
"It's the feedback they're getting from their customers. It's the age old story how do you tell people they can't be on a public street?"
He suggested some stores need to have souvenir-type items to sell that would help pay for staying open at night.
"They're not here long. But they want people to feel welcomed."
Getting other merchants to buy in hasn't worked so far. Kelly recalled a breakfast meeting held several years ago by Rocky Mountaineer asking business owners to try staying open.
"Most of the merchants at that time were pretty apathetic," he said.
He sells a lot of souvenirs and handmade crafts, and especially train items. These are people who like trains, after all.
But if the numbers don't increase, he won't be reopening at night, either.