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