Career success | MBA intern helps Rocky Mountaineer maintain consumer excellence


Guest experience excellence is a cornerstone to Rocky Mountaineer’s success, and their number one priority is to anticipate and respond to the needs of their guests better than their competitors. 

In June 2010, Grace Apuyan, UBC MBA 2011, was hired by Rocky Mountaineer on a 14-week internship that offered hands-on experience in customer research and product development.

Rocky Mountaineer sets the bar high — striving for continuous improvement in their effectiveness and efficiency, determined to offer the best total value and experience as measured by their guests.

While also providing exposure to sales and operations practices, Grace's internship delivered a realistic perspective into the responsibilities of a product development manager. Key initiatives included the management of research projects, preparation and analysis of market research results, analyses of business, consumer and competitive needs, and new product development.

“My main project was to review the company’s primary research program to determine whether they were maximizing the use of information obtained from guest feedback, and efficiently using their financial resources for consumer research,” said Grace.

She drew on her extensive experience as a Senior Research Analyst at The Nielsen Company, where she was responsible for market and consumer analysis. She began by evaluating Rocky Mountaineer’s customer research goals, research methodology, survey design and questions, and perceived value of the monthly research reports by internal stakeholders.

Grace found that the existing reports provided many data points, however the more valuable analysis that managers could use to make business decisions was missing. And while surveying every guest allowed Rocky Mountaineer to quickly and effectively handle any concerns raised, it was an expensive process and did not deliver significantly enhanced insight into overall guest satisfaction.

She recommended several changes including a reduction in survey sample size, changes to research questions and adaptation of the reports to provide in-depth analysis that would allow managers to better interpret the information and take action. The COO and Senior Managers found the resulting information more valuable, and the potential thirty percent reduction in research costs very attractive.

Grace’s second project focused on testing new products and experience enhancements onboard trains and in destinations such as Kamloops, where guest enthusiasm for some extracurricular activities was lower than desired. Grace assisted in testing guest response to several new offerings including cultural and culinary events, and in data analysis. Based on her findings, she then recommended improvements in supplier logistics and packages to create an enhanced guest experience.

During her internship, Grace also managed Rocky Mountaineer’s ongoing marketing projects with research agencies, including pricing and UAI studies, assisted in future planning and day-to-day product management (e.g. pricing, product development, operational analysis, train scheduling), and conducted research on consumer and economic trends.

Grace found the exposure to other departments, and operations and sales in particular, extremely valuable. “We had to consider the impact new products would have on operational implementation — everything from how the sales team would position it, to why or why not it would be attractive to customers. It was very enlightening and practical,” commented Grace.

Upon completion of the internship, Grace was able to improve the usability of Rocky Mountaineer’s research reports, and provide greater visibility into product performance. By implementing her short term recommendations, the company also has the potential to reduce its research costs. And, by utilizing her data analysis insights, they also improved the effectiveness of new product testing.

Company Profile

In 2010, Armstrong Group, owners and operators of the award-winning Rocky Mountaineer celebrated a milestone anniversary — 20 successful years. Since its inception in 1990, the British Columbia-based, family-owned business has grown to become the largest privately owned passenger rail service in North America and has welcomed over one million guests onboard. While Armstrong Group’s past is rich in history and rooted in success, the goal from day one remains the same: provide the most spectacular and unforgettable travel experiences in the world. Recognized as the best train experience in the world by countless travel professionals, Rocky Mountaineer, four-time World Travel Award winner as “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train”, continues to impress even the most discerning travellers.

The experience and knowledge that Grace brought to her position was invaluable. Grace was able to offer insight and recommendations that helped shape the future of our guest research program.