TORONTO — Vertical integration is still the name of the game so it’s no wonder tour operators pressed on with plans for new resorts, and new resort alliances, in 2018.
Rounding up the industry stories making headlines this year, we also look at the 2018 good-news recovery stories from the wild 2017 hurricane season, and a volcano that seemed to attract twice as many visitors as it kept away. Plus, a major closure that could hit the travel compensation funds in Ontario, Quebec and B.C. for millions of dollars.
Through it all agents kept doing what they do best: counseling their clients, selling just about everything under the sun and staying sane knowing that no matter what the industry comes up with, they can handle it.
Sunwing Travel Group, already a major player on the resort scene with its Blue Diamond Resorts hotel division with 15,000+ rooms across more than a half dozen brands, fortified its position even further with a blockbuster deal with Planet Hollywood. Announcing the venture in February 2018, Sunwing Travel Group and Planet Hollywood said initial plans called for two resorts in Mexico and Costa Rica, with more to come. Right on time, Planet Hollywood Beach Resort Costa Rica opened in fall 2018. In Mexico, Planet Hollywood Resort Cancun is slated to open in spring 2019. Sunwing is also transforming the site of the former Sonesta Great Bay in St. Maarten into a Planet Hollywood resort. And in October Sunwing announced plans to expand its hotel division again with the addition of six of Rex Resorts’ Caribbean hotels, part of a newly formed strategic alliance that will see Sunwing grow its presence in destinations including Grenada, Tobago and Barbados.
Transat’s resort plans meanwhile are taking shape like never before, as the company makes good on its decision, first divulged in 2017, to develop its own hotel chain in the Caribbean. In September 2018 Transat announced it had purchased a stretch of land in Riviera Maya, in Puerto Morelos on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is ideally situated midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen some 20 kilometres from Cancun International Airport.
The company has also entered into a promissory agreement to purchase a second adjacent property for a total consideration of between US$54 and $57 million to build a new beachfront resort.
Transat says its new hotel division will include some 5,000 owned or managed hotel rooms at its main Sun destinations by 2024.
There was more hotel news from Hilton and Playa, with the introduction of Hilton La Romana, an All-inclusive Resort, and Hilton Playa del Carmen, an All-inclusive Resort, adding 1,269 new Hilton guest rooms to its existing global portfolio as part of a strategic alliance. In September 2018 Playa took over management of the resort currently known as Dreams La Romana (rebranded as the Hilton La Romana) while The Royal Playa del Carmen became Hilton Playa del Carmen, an All-inclusive Resort. The agreement between Playa Hotels and Hilton also includes the potential for the conversion and management of eight additional resorts by 2025.
And in other news, Sandals Resorts released new details about its ground-breaking Tobago development, saying it planned to build a Sandals Resort and a Beaches Resort side by side, with close to 300 rooms and 450-500 rooms respectively.
This was the comeback year for destinations like Puerto Rico, Dominica, Anguilla and St. Maarten, all of which took a hit from 2017’s hurricanes. Sunwing Travel Group’s newest Planet Hollywood resort is taking shape on the site of the former Sonesta Great Bay, which had closed after Irma hit the island in September 2017. Meanwhile AMResorts is bringing a new Secrets resort to St. Martin, on the site of the former Riu Palace St. Martin. A $20 million reno will get the place in shape in time for its 2019 reopening.
In October 2018 Hawaii confirmed it was ‘open for business’ despite a volcano eruption and two close calls with hurricanes. Kilauea volcano’s eruptions began May 3 with lava flowing continuously until Aug. 6, and generated headlines worldwide, but it was only a small area that was affected on the Island of Hawaii.
In August 2018 Sinorama Holidays closed its doors after 13 years in business, with a voluntary termination of its Ontario Travel Industry Act, 2002 registration.
Over its 13-year history Sinorama Group expanded from Canada into Europe, Australia/New Zealand and the U.S., began trading as a public company in the States and reportedly sold $123 million worth of travel in 2017, up 27% over the previous year.
And yet by April 2018 the company was allegedly running a $10.9 million shortfall and scrambling to bring in new money to cover the deficit, at least according to reports in consumer paper La Presse, which covered Sinorama’s financial tailspin extensively.
Quebec’s travel regulator, the Office de la protection de la consommateur (OPC), first notified the Montreal-based operations of Sinorama that its license would not be renewed in that province, citing insufficient funds. Soon alarm bells were going off at Consumer Protection B.C. too.
At the same time, TICO issued a closure advisory for Markham-based Sinorama Holidays Inc. as the company voluntarily terminated its Ontario registration. The hit to Ontario’s Travel Compensation Fund from the Sinorama Holidays Inc. closure could exceed the $5 million legislated maximum. The six-month window to file a claim is Feb. 11, 2019.
According to CLIA’s latest stats, some 30 million passengers are expected to cruise in 2019, up from 28.2 in 2018. Close to 20 new ships will debut in 2019, bringing the number of CLIA-member ship to 272. Revenues are up, yields are up and interest in cruising continues unabated, especially thanks for headline-grabbing newcomers like Symphony of the Seas (March 2018), Norwegian Bliss (May 2018) and Celebrity Edge. Sales for river cruising, despite difficulties with low water levels in Europe in 2018, are still through the roof. And all eyes are on the first of Virgin Voyages’ four new ships, Scarlet Lady, getting ready to set sail, and set new benchmarks for adults-only cruising, in 2020.