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After a brief ‘wintermission’ the frigid temps, record bookings...

After a brief ‘wintermission’ the frigid temps, record bookings should be on their way back

Friday, January 19, 2018

This story originally ran in the January 11th, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.


TORONTO — There’s a January thaw on the way for much of Canada but forecasters say 2018’s colder-than-normal winter temperatures will be back by the middle of February and continue into early March – and that’s music to the ears of travel agents, tour operators and anyone in the travel industry looking to make gains after a couple of relatively mild winters.

The first cold snap of 2018, with howling winter winds and consumer news coverage of record snowfall, frigid temperatures and ‘bomb cyclones’ in early January, sent booking volumes into the stratosphere.

And as the cold snap extended further into January across much of Canada, agents were reporting significantly higher call volumes from clients desperate to book sun vacations and escape winter weather that showed up earlier, and with more snow and cold, than in recent memory.

Working until 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to get several clients booked and working on 12 more bookings a couple of days later, travel agent Mary Lynn Villeneuve, ACC, says, “Everyone’s first comment is ‘I’m so sick of this cold weather’.”

While phones were ringing off the hook at travel agencies across the country, tour operators are already seeing such strong booking volumes that availability is quickly tightening.

Andrew Dawson, Chief Operating Officer of Sunwing Travel Group, says the tour operator saw call volumes and bookings ramp up immediately with the early winter weather. “With the extremely cold temperatures arriving early this year in regions of Canada that are not normally accustomed to such cold temperatures so early in the season, we have experienced a significant influx of travel inquiries and anticipate the demand to further accelerate,” Dawson told Travelweek.

He added: “Although we are offering more choices with new flights and gateways, as well as new destinations such as Bonaire and Antigua, and new hotels such as RIU Dunamar and Royalton Bavaro, agents should encourage their customers to book their winter vacations now as our top-rated hotels in popular destination are quickly selling out and prices are likely to increase in the coming weeks.”

Cuba

Cayo Coco

Dawson also noted that Cuba’s Cayos region has seen a recent surge in demand and occupancy since re-opening back in the fall, post-hurricane, mainly driven by positive customer reviews.

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Tour operators including Transat were reporting increased booking volumes for its most popular destinations like Cancun and Punta Cana, spurred on by the late December and early January cold snap.

TravelBrands VP Nathalie Tanious said three to four weeks after Hurricane Irma “we got a nice pick up and the trend continues going strong for land, packages and cruise bookings.”

And Air Canada Vacations said it is “very happy” with winter bookings so far, noting that forward winter bookings are doing very well in comparison to last year. “Puerto Vallarta and Cuba are destinations that seem to be on a lot of lists this year. Cuba is typically a last-minute market however the sales have been steady.”

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta

Dartmouth, NS travel agent and Niche Travel Group owner Faith Sproule says the calls and emails started to flood in towards the end of last week. “It has been -8 to -14 every day. Most of our people book in the fall to get the best resort, direct flight, executive class, etc. Those who waited though are now very motivated to book by this cold weather.” When the snow hits, she adds, “the calls will really flood in.”

Response for Niche Travel Group’s ‘1 Day Sale’ on Jan. 11 was “great”, she added. In the days leading up to the sale people were clicking ‘Interested’ on the agency’s Facebook Event and registering with Eventbrite for the advance notice deals and sales. Mixed in with the discounts on the sale day were upgrades with Niche Travel Group’s top four- and five-star resort partners and cruise lines. “I always prefer a value-add to a discount,” says Sproule.

TravelOnly agent Villeneuve also uses social media to promote her winter sun deals, including one of her products that’s increasingly popular around Christmas and other gift-giving occasions: gift certificates.

Working in the retail travel industry for more than a decade, Villeneuve says she’s been offering gift certificates for years. “Clients usually request a certificate in a certain denomination. They can pre-pay the certificate and we hold the funds in trust for them, or we make arrangements with the purchaser to provide a credit card in the amount of the certificate to be applied when the recipient makes their booking. I’ve done up special packages in the past where the certificate is in a beach bag with a towel, sunscreen and tour operator book, or I had one husband put one in a beautiful crystal picture frame. Or Moms and Dads use them to tell the kids they are going on a holiday and then let them be a part of the decision making process where they are going.”

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Villeneuve adds: “Of course I use social media to promote them. Usually to remind people about [gift certificates as] a great gift idea for that special someone or a surprise for the family.”

Dr. Andrea Lang, Assistant Professor, Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences at the University at Albany, SUNY, says the cold we’ve experienced recently in North America is the result of some large scale shifts in the atmospheric circulation around the northern hemisphere, creating a situation where some of the coldest air in the hemisphere is over Canada. “Since the pattern has remained stationary, the cold air is reinvigorated by the long Canadian nights and fresh snowfall,” says Lang.

This weather pattern remained in place through mid-January, but by now in the last half of January there are indications that a more southerly flow will see more temperate air reaching a large portion of Canada, “especially the eastern half of the country”.

Meanwhile The Weather Network says the ‘Wintermission’ forecast for much of Canada over the next few days is just a temporary break from frigid weather ahead.

“Another pattern change is expected in mid-February, which will bring a return to colder-than-normal temperatures for most of Canada. The chilly pattern is expected to persist for the remainder of February and into March.”


This story originally ran in the January 11th, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.

Kathryn Folliott

Kathryn Folliott

Managing Editor at Travelweek
Kathryn is Managing Editor at Travelweek and has worked for the company since 1995. She has travelled to more than 50 countries and counts Hong Kong, Jerusalem, the Swiss Alps and the Galapagos Islands among her favourite destinations.
Kathryn Folliott
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