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Agents React As New Sunquest Model Launches
June 4, 2013
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Sunquest’s new no-risk dynamically packaged vacations model is now on sale across all channels, with the promise of offering Canadians more choice and flexibility in making their holiday plans.

“Sunquest is an iconic brand in the Canadian travel industry,” says Steve Butchart, V.P. Sunquest. “It was a pioneer in its field when it started operations more than 40 years ago, and with this new business model that offers a completely new way to create a packaged vacation, it continues its innovation traditions to better meet the needs of today’s consumers who are looking for more choice and flexibility with great value.”

Sunquest continues to offer its long-time stalwarts including Jamaica, the Bahamas and Aruba, alongside expanded offerings in Cuba and the Dominican Republic and new destinations including Turks & Caicos, Bermuda and Barbados.

New-model Sunquest packages include the customer’s choice of airline from featured flying partners WestJet, Air Canada and a selection of U.S. carriers, combined with hotels to create a package that includes return transfers, the services of an in-resort representative, and the ability to stay for any duration, as long as there is a flight available on the days they want to travel.

As part of the new model, Sunquest will offer up to 16 different flight options with every search, allowing customers to further customize their package based on travel days, flight times and/or price. For instance, customers can choose to fly to their destination of choice via the U.S. instead of direct, at a reduced price.

Open Jaw spoke to a number of retailers to get their take on the major changes at the highly familiar 40 year travel brand.

“We’ve tested the model with Fun Sun and I have to say it’s easy to book, a very simple process and we’ve had no problems at all,” says Elizabeth Rodgers, Manager of McCarten Travel in Belleville. “For our clients, the choices we can now offer are very helpful. We can now offer 9 or 10 day vacations to so many more destinations.”

An executive from a national agency chain who agreed to speak off the record only, says the Sunquest product looks great but they have some reservations about whether the company can remain competitive without offering “risk” product.

There’s also concern about how retailers with websites will be able to offer the product. “At the moment, the standard 1 wk. package holidays are being offered through consumer-facing sites and most consumers are looking for that familiar product. The fact that Sunquest offers flexible durations on sked flights operating via U.S. connection points, etc. – are really only displayed on the Sunquest site itself.”

That being said, the retail executive says the Sunquest model reflects the direction that major online players are planning to take, but they’re not quite there yet in terms of modifying their websites and search parameters. The early shift to this model by Sunquest and other former TCook Canada brands should put them in a good position as online players evolve, the executive says.

Handa Travel Group President Alex Handa says his company has seen a decline in FIT sales through FunSun and other operators because a lot of the product that once was only available that way – like Disney, Vegas, Arizona and ski product — is now packaged by WestJet Vacations, ACV and others.

He does see dynamic packaging becoming more desirable among Canadians as more travellers are looking for the ‘individual’ vacation experience and not just the best deal on an all inclusive resort. But Handa says the concept hasn’t taken off immediately in Canada as it has in larger markets like the U.K. and U.S. where there is more low-cost and diversified lift. “In Canada – the airlines are all pretty much the same price and compete on the same routes,” Handa says.

Both Handa and Rodgers aren’t convinced that Canadians will be eager to save some money in exchange for making one or more stops prior to reaching their destination.

“Canadians are not willing to touch down in the U.S. en route to any destination they could potentially reach with a non-stop flight, especially for a short duration getaway and even at a reduced price,” says Handa.

Rodgers agrees: “The drawback is if the consumer has to connect. My concern is that it will scare people off certain destinations. They fear that it increases the chances of missed connections and lost luggage. You can’t underestimate that issue.”

Handa says the new Sunquest policy where final payment is due upon booking will be a hard sell for agents. “But it certainly is good for cash flow,” he says.

Nadia Giudice, President of Montreal’s Voyages Groupe Ideal and a newly elected Director on the Ensemble North America Board, says she thinks the new Sunquest model makes perfect sense. “Having risk air is a difficult business model, so it does not surprise me that (Sunquest) is leveraging a network of sked carriers. It’s the U.S. model. Club Med has been doing it for years!”

While the Sunquest product is now available, the company says there’s more to come. It promises to launch “a unique groups program in the coming weeks.”

Open Jaw. (2013). Agents React As New Sunquest Model Launches. Toronto, Ontario: OpenJaw.com

 

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