In an interview with Paxnouvelles.com, Colin Hunter and Sam Char, of the Sunwing Travel Group, explained why they staunchly believe that the Quebec market, from Montreal to Mont-Joli, is ready to venture beyond the classic sun triangle of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
But where and how? The congenial, soft spoken Colin Hunter explains.
Hunter, who regularly stays at his own hotels when he’s on vacation (“Well, is there any better brand than Royalton? ”, He jokes), does so under a pseudonym as to preserve his anonymity and receive an authentic treatment. He states that 2017 ended up being a very fruitful year for Sunwing, despite everything… to the dismay of its competitors.
And the best surprise of all?
That the Caribbean, especially Honduras, Saint Lucia, Costa Rica and Panama, showed very impressive tourist numbers.
“I believe that destinations like Aruba, Antigua, the Bahamas and Jamaica could use a bit more traffic. And the typical Quebec consumer is slowly warming up to the idea. In fact, travel agents are being asked more and more about these spots and are being told by travellers that they want to explore beyond the usual triangle. It’s no coincidence that we also offer flights to emerging destinations, as well as Central America,” explains Colin Hunter.
Same goes for Sam Char : he’s also noticed a shift in the market, or at least, a new openness.
“That’s the feedback we’ve been getting from travel agents – that customers are asking about different destinations, stating that they’ve ‘seen enough of Cuba and Mexico.’ That’s what they’re telling me. There will always be a customer base for each hotel and each destination, but now, there are more options than ever.”
And that not only goes for Montreal, but Quebec City as well, and even the more rural areas of the province.
An emphasis on the Quebec regions
Sunwing offers flights from six different cities in Quebec, more than anywhere else in the country.
Sam Char adds that Sunwing has “gotten out of the established comfort zone. We were the first to do this in Quebec – to venture out of Montreal – and all our competitors thought we had lost tour minds! It wasn’t easy, but it was all worth it in the end.”
“It’s always been part of the strategy, from day one actually, to take on new places for which we believe there is enough demand. Fast forward to today, and we’re in six cities in the province,” says Colin Hunter, gleefully.
The spirited and vibrant founder was also quick to point out that he would love to serve even more places, by offering directs flights no less, but that the challenges would be less related to aircraft or personnel, and more about red tape with customs.
“That’s the reason you have to go through Montreal or Quebec, it’s a customs issue.”
“I’ve noticed that the Quebec market especially has become more sophisticated over the past five years. There has been a meaningful change. We’ve come a long way from the vacation packages that Quebecers would buy in the 80s!” he jokes, referring to the dreadful 2 star-rated resorts that were sold at the time.
“Customers now understand that they get what they pay for, and so, they are choosing higher quality products. Luxury travel does much better in Quebec nowadays.”
Sam Char adds: “When I meet with hotel chain representatives, they all agree: the el cheapo market is declining in Quebec. More and more people are booking suites now, for their 10 day stays even! It seems a sort of metamorphosis is under way.”
Sunwing and Travel Agents in Quebec
“I often get the feeling that the travel agents in Quebec are far better informed than elsewhere in the country. They make smarter sales,” says Sunwing’s owner.
“They are the only ones, for example, who, when sending groups to popular destinations, do so by selling seats individually so they can offer more advantageous rates. It’s brilliant! They know their market,” he adds, clearly bemused that the practice isn’t more widespread.
The compliment is rather flattering, knowing Colin Hunter is at the head of a conglomerate worth billions of dollars.
In short, the Owner, Chairman of the Board and Founding President of Sunwing considers that there are no limits to people’s imagination, nor to what the company has to offer. He says, grinning: “cruises, helicopters, the whole shebang… it’s a logical progression, don’t you think so? Now that we have the hotels, why not add floating ones?”
Only time will tell!
Tourisme Plus met with Colin Hunter, Founding President, Chairman of the Board and Owner of the Sunwing Travel Group and Sam Char, Executive Director its Quebec branch, as Mr. Hunter was visiting Montreal to give concerts in the city on January 27th and 28th.
The president and crooner took the opportunity to share the company’s very positive results for 2017 and the winter season, despite the hurricanes that struck the Caribbean last fall.
Mr. Hunter also reminded us that his business is not only an airline company and a tour operator, but also the largest vertically integrated travel group in North America – offering flights, excursions and accommodations (a fast-growing sector). According to Mr. Hunter, Sunwing is the number one to the sun in Canada, owning 38% of the market shares in Canada and 35% in Quebec.
AN UNPREDICTABLE ENVIRONMENT
Being successful in the travel business becomes increasingly difficult, states the founder of Sunwing: “In the past, we only had the weather conditions to consider. Today, the environment is becoming increasingly unpredictable due to terrorism, social and political instability, crises and emergencies… We have to cope with a lot of challenges! The Travel Advice and Advisories from the Government of Canada don’t help: they are always very alarmist. If all of us followed them, no one would travel anymore!”
Mr. Hunter sets as an example the provisions on a state of emergency recently declared for Saint James Parish, including Montego Bay, in Jamaica. « Not a tourist goes into that parish. It frightens travellers, but most of them don’t even get out of their resort! And if they do, they do it safely, as part of an excursion guided by locals. They are using common sense! The same precautions apply to certain neighbourhoods in Montreal or Toronto that we would avoid at nighttime.”
That said, while the challenges are great, they are also quite exciting according to Mr. Hunter: “We chose the travelling business because we like challenges and overcoming them, one at a time. We have to listen to our customer’s needs – since we are vertically integrated, we receive comments on all of our services. We also need to follow our intuitions, to offer good products and good prices, to stay constant in the quality of our services… We need to come up with new products, hotels, for example. There are a lot of opportunities in the hotel industry!
“The key is vertical integration.”
As we know, the company markets the Riu hotels and Resorts (by the TUI group, the biggest tour operator in the world, with a 49% interest in Sunwing.) It also operates the properties from its Blue Diamond hotel division (Memories, Starfish, Royalton…), offering around 14,000 rooms this year, and almost 16,000 rooms next winter. On that note, Mr. Hunter and Mr. Char point out that the Royalton Bavaro Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic opened just last year, on December 16th. There will also be a Royalton opening in downtown Cancun in February 2019, as well as another in Playa Mujeres, in Mexico’s northern Cancun, a destination that is developing well, around the end of 2019.
|“The key is vertical integration,” says Sam Char. “We are the pioneers of this business model in Canada. Our priority is serving our passengers.”
Furthermore, Sunwing’s aircraft fleet is the most modern and most fuel-efficient in Canada, and is made up of 40 Boeing 737-800, the best-performing planes in terms of fuel consumption and carbon emission: “they have a longer range. We could get to anywhere in South America from Montreal,” says Colin Hunter. Will new destinations be added? “Not at the moment. We already offer Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras.”
THE QUEBEC MARKET
Thanks to Colin Hunter’s initiative, his is the only airline to fly from six different cities in the province of Quebec. – “We weren’t going to serve Montreal exclusively!” He declared 12 years ago. By allowing them to travel south from a nearby airport, Sunwing puts smiles on a lot of Quebecers’ faces.
“We’re trying to meet demand,” says Sam Char. For example, the people from Mont-Joli would like for our flight service to be extended beyond March 15th. They tell us: It’s winter until April around here! So, we’re considering extending it in 2019.”
According to Colin Hunter, Quebecers still don’t really know about the destinations outside the Cuba-Dominican Republic-Mexico triangle, which is why travel agents are now encouraging their customers to (re)discover Saint Lucia, Aruba, Antigua, Jamaica and the Bahamas. “If their first choice isn’t available for their preferred dates, don’t hesitate to suggest these destinations,” he says. “The beaches are beautiful and the food is excellent.”
Also, we would like to remind you that the Million Dollar Beach Blowout Sale is currently on and will run until February 2nd or while supplies last. This promotion offers deals on a large number of hotels in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Florida.
Anne Marie Parent
Colin Hunter in the Courrier de Laval
Courrier de Laval – August 3rd 2017
About 2 300 spectators left the Laval Symphony Orchestra’s Ode to Hollywood concert with a grin on their face. On August 2nd, the lightning seen through the skies meshed perfectly with the thundering Star Wars soundtrack and perfectly followed Colin Hunter’s vocal tribute to Frank Sinatra greatest hits.
When noticing the threatening sky above (the rain did not last long), and right after Aaron Copland’s ballet, Appalachian Spring, which was the first piece of the evening, conductor Alain Trudel immediately decided to offer up John William’s famous score, which had originally been intended for the end of the show.
“The movie’s 40th anniversary is what inspired this concert, which was meant to give the audience a good ol’ time”, says maestro Alain Trudel. “The show opened with classics from West Side Story andThe Sound of Music, which were followed by some famous Broadway tunes that have made it onto the big screen. ”
The audience was also treated to crooner Colin Hunter’s cover of Come Fly With Me, My Funny Valentine, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Fly Me to the Moon and the much beloved New York New York.
During this string of hits, people knew the tunes and kept looking at each other and whispering about how strongly similar Colin Hunter’s voice is to the legend himself, Sinatra.
“I always sang along to the radio. First, it was to Tony Bennett, then to the wonderful musical arrangements of Sinatra”, explains Colin Hunter, who also happens to be founder and Chairman of Sunwing Travel Group, the well-known tour operator and airline. I first started singing in 2005, during a presentation givento our Quebec agents. After that, I became more serious about it and, tonight, it will be my first time with a professional symphony orchestra. It will be a wonderful gift and an incredible experience!
Hunter, a great admirer of the Rat Pack (Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra) often flies to Quebec to tour and pay vocal tribute to his idols. Just lately, he also got to climb on stage at the legendary Blue Note, in New York City. In Laval, many will remember his performances at the House of Jazz, on De l’Avenir Boulevard.
“After a rehearsal for Pink Floyd’s The Wall opera, for which I was conducting the orchestra, I took my trombone and went to see Colin and his band, who were playing somewhere in Montreal,” says Alain Trudel. I told him we were going to play together, just like in the good old days. Mr. Hunter is a classy guy. And he sounds so much like Sinatra! ”
Famous musician Lorraine Desmarais, who, in an impromptu replacement of the pianist originally intended to accompany Colin Hunter and the OSL during their songs, echoed the sentiment.
“I know Colin Hunter by reputation and it’s clear that his voice bears a striking resemblance to Sinatra’s,” says Desmarais. As it turns out, the jazz pianist will also be performing alongside her trio at Laval’s House of Jazz, on August 24th, for an evening dedicated to Bill Evans’ popular standards. It will be a great pleasure to work with all these wonderful people. ”
There will be a second chance for the public to go to the concert. This showing will be held on Wednesday, August 9th, at La Berge aux Quatre-Vents, in the western part of Laval. This time, with no risk of thunderstorms.
Colin Hunter in The Montrealer
The Montrealer – February 2017
Sunwing’s chairman of the board does it his way
Montreal Gazette – Paul Delean – August 16, 2016