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Agents On Winter Innovations: Part 2: The Rise Of Rouge
October 15, 2013
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There’s always something new for the winter sun season, whether it’s a destination, a new spin on the all-inclusive model or a start-up operator. This year, there are a number of interesting changes, including an interactive digital brochure from WestJet Vacations, the ramping up of Air Canada Rouge and the 1st winter season for the new Sunquest business model. Open Jaw’s Adrienne Lem Burkett surveyed several Canadian agents and executives on their perceptions of the changes. This is the 2nd of a 3 part series.

AC Rouge took off this summer, with plenty of publicity, on just a few routes ex YYZ and YUL but, beginning with the 2013/2014 winter season, Air Canada’s leisure subsidiary will begin to flex its muscles in the sun destination markets.

For its 1st revenue flights on July 1st, the Rouge fleet consisted of just 2 Airbus A319 aircraft and 2 Boeing 767-300ERs. By the end of December the addition of 6 more A319s will take the fleet to 10, then 14 by March 2014.

Following an inaugural summer season flying to Edinburgh, Venice, Athens and a few Caribbean and Mexican destinations, Rouge is expanding to 23 destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida and Las Vegas for its 2013-2014 winter season. The major gateway will still be YYZ, with a growing number from YUL as well. With Rouge spreading its wings, Open Jaw asked a number of industry members their views on its impact.

“Rouge is selling and has had a big impact on winter sales so far,” says Gary Gaudry, President of Maritime Travel. “Air Canada is a good brand. And what we’re seeing with their lower priced product is a bigger uptick on the Air Canada Vacations side. Clients are absolutely saving.”

On the other hand, Chris Akester, Assistant Manager of Toronto’s Collacutt Travel, doesn’t see Rouge as changing the landscape for Collacutt clients, despite flying extensively from YYZ. “I’ve had mixed reviews from my clients. Some weren’t pleased with the entertainment options.”

Akester says she hasn’t seen much decrease in ACV pricing with its lower cost Rouge product, “so it isn’t much different.”

Rose Cosentino, V.P. Sales & Product, itravel2000, disagrees. “AC rouge is a great alternative to other charter-based routes and provides good pricing for travellers. On advance sales, the rates with Rouge are less expensive.”

Alexander Handa, President of the Handa Travel Group, says he’s excited about the new Rouge offering. “Air Canada is a massive partner of ours and an amazing airline. With Rouge, they are extending the life of their aircraft, increasing their fleet size, adding destinations. This is all beneficial to agents.”

Handa says that for the overall health and competitiveness of AC, adding the low cost carrier was an important step to make. “Rouge will do well for us.”

Mike Foster, President, Nexion Canada, says there’s definitely a market for Rouge. “The launch of the Rouge program is Air Canada’s answer to the low-cost competition they have been facing for years. Certain travellers are focused solely on price – and not amenities or the overall experience – so I would expect this type of program will do well with that type of traveller.”

Foster wonders if publicity over how Rouge compensates and trains its employees will have an impact on agent perceptions of the brand. “What’s interesting is the new pay scale and the way the training is being handled – outsourced and paid for in part by the employee. While Air Canada’s Rouge program may be well-received by the travelling public, it is more difficult to predict how it will be embraced by the travel agent community.”

With Rouge flying exclusively from central Canada this winter, Hank Oostveen, V.P. Uniglobe Western Canada, says his agents won’t see much impact, but he’s keeping his eye on the product for the future.

“In 2014, they’re planning for more YVR lift and we will definitely work with them then.”

Source: Open Jaw

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