TRO: Vacation Express announced last month that it had been wholly acquired by Sunwing Travel Group. Please tell agents who may not know about Sunwing a little about the company.
RJ: The Sunwing Travel Group comprises Sunwing Airlines and tour operators Sunwing Vacations and Signature Vacations. The company is headquartered in Toronto and is the second-largest leisure travel company in Canada. The Sunwing Travel Group is headed up by father and son team Colin and Stephen Hunter and jointly owned with worldwide travel giant TUI Travel plc. The company employs over 1,600 people and will carry over one million Canadians this year to the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Europe and the U.S.. Known as the company that “brings the plane to your door”, Sunwing operates 23 state-of-the-art B737-800s out of 30 Canadian gateways to over 40 international destinations.
TRO: What does this acquisition mean for Vacation Express?
RJ: Most importantly, having been acquired by such a successful company will allow us to invest money in the growth of Vacation Express. With the tough economic times of the past few years it has been challenging finding available funds for extensive marketing campaigns and growth of our sales efforts in general. Sunwing’s intention is to grow Vacation Express significantly and rapidly and our first efforts have been focused on reintroducing charter flights in some of our main markets for the summer of 2012.
TRO: Are there any changes of which travel agents who partner with you — or are considering a partnership — should be aware?
RJ: There are no changes in the way we operate on a daily basis and agents will continue to receive the great benefits and service that they have been accustomed to for so many years. As part of the Sunwing Travel Group, I can see us expanding our product line with more destinations on scheduled air, but also more charter gateways beyond the initial three we are considering for this year which are Atlanta, Cincinnati and Nashville. Having more products in general and more value-priced products on the charters specifically will benefit travel agents.
TRO: What most excites you about this new development?
RJ: Separate from the ability to grow Vacation Express again, personally I am excited about having a great team of Executives in Canada to share ideas with, whether in Sales, Marketing, I.T, Product Development or other areas.
TRO: Since we last spoke, how have your views on the industry changed?
RJ: I cannot say that I see a sudden major change in the industry, but more a continuation of changes that have been taking place for some time now. Airlines are continuing to adjust their routes on a frequent basis. Sometimes this works in a negative way and affects our ability to compete, but other times, changes in routes or cancellations of routes all together benefit us and open the door for charters again.
On the travel agent side, I continue to see a shift from storefront agents to home-based agents as well as a shift from agents focusing primarily on price versus others focusing on service and being able to charge a premium. To accommodate these changes Vacation Express will launch two new brands called VEValue.com and VEPremier.com, with each targeting its own unique market.
VEValue.com will compete with OTA-like pricing for agents who realize their clients use many online sources and are therefore very price-oriented. Pricing on VEValue.com is very aggressive and commission levels are lower, but it is a product for which we have had great demand.
VEPremier.com, on the other hand, focuses on agents who feel they can charge a premium for their services and are comfortable charging a bit more for a vacation package. This product will pay a very high commission level of 17%, which is the highest in the industry and includes other benefits.
TRO: As an avid traveler, have you been to any exciting destinations recently that you would like to share with the agent community?
RJ: For my personal travel I like to visit remote destinations that may not always be very common. I recently returned from Asia where I visited Cambodia for the third time and still loved it, but Laos was new to me and I was very impressed with that destination and cannot wait to return.
Closer to home I love traveling to many of the Vacation Express destinations. After so many years Cancun still feels like my home away from home and no matter how often I travel there, the quality of the product and the service continues to amaze me. Even though few things are new to me in Cancun, I hardly ever have time to relax or participate in tours and activities. However, last year I did visit Xcaret for the first time and couldn’t believe how wonderful the product was. I would certainly recommend it to everyone visiting Cancun or the Riviera Maya.
TRO: What advice do you have for travel agents in the new year?
RJ: Like everyone who runs a business, it is important to constantly reinvent yourself and look at changing trends in the markets. Doing the same thing over and over again won’t work for most. I talk to the agents who are extremely successful in growing their business and are open to change, whereas others have a hard time maintaining their client base, often because they haven’t changed their approach. Whether it is the use of social media or looking at new products such as VEValue.com or VEPremier.com, my advice is to remain open-minded and try new things.
TRO: Anything else to add?
RJ: Considering the new products we have to offer in 2012, combined with some unique agent benefit programs our company has offered for many years now, I encourage agents who are new to Vacation Express to give us a try. I have no doubt they will very quickly see why Vacation Express can be a great partner for them.