TORONTO — Travelweek’s latest virtual conference was a positively sunny affair, with top experts sharing their tips and insights on how best to maximize bookings to Sun destinations this winter.
Airing yesterday, Oct. 6, as the fifth installment in Travelweek’s hugely successful virtual series, ‘Future of Travel: Winter Sun Getaways’ was viewed by thousands of travel agents and industry professionals, all of whom tuned in to hear updates from key airlines, cruise lines, destinations and associations, and win some great prizes, too.
To watch the broadcast, click here.
Opening the show was Travelweek’s Publisher, Devin Kinasz, who noted all the progress that has been made in the travel industry since Travelweek’s previous virtual conference in May.
“Most Canadians are now fully vaccinated. We got rid of the pesky hotel quarantine and now people coming back into Canada don’t have to quarantine at all, which really helps the tourism industry. And Canada is finally allowing fully vaccinated tourists to enter our borders as well,” said Kinasz. “So while it may seem that tourism is still having a rough time, we actually have made some progress and there’s reason to be optimistic.”
Agents tuning into the broadcast also expressed optimism for the season ahead and shared their feedback about the program via a live chat. Sheri Blaschuck said: “This has been so informative – thank you so much for all the updates!” Halyna Ainsworth added, ‘This was very well done and so informative,” while Julie Nusca thanked the Travelweek team, adding “it’s great to see the industry coming back!”
Here are just a few insights from yesterday’s keynote speakers:
Andrew Dawson, Chief Operating Officer, Sunwing Travel Group
When asked what kind of traction Sunwing is seeing for the winter season, Dawson said the company is running approximately 20-25% of what it would normally do this time of year. The good news is, certain destinations like Punta Cana and Cancun are nearing 2019 levels of capacity.
Adding that progress has “very much been week to week,” Dawson added that Canada has been a “very, very last-minute market” and that Sunwing is seeing good bookings for Christmas, as well as decent levels on the whole for January and February.
“But there are a lot of big unknowns at this moment in time that we have to navigate through, so although we’re seeing good bookings we’re also seeing levels of cancellation,” he said. “It’s a lot of ‘doing it by the seat of your pants’ this winter, but overall there is optimism – cautious optimism.”
Adolfo Perez, SVP of Global Sales & Marketing, Carnival Cruise Line
Since resuming operations on July 3, Carnival has seen a flurry of activity and currently has 11 ships back in the water, or 50% of its U.S.-based fleet. Perez, who said he was really excited about the pace of the restart, added that the cruise line has plans to roll out additional ships by the end of the year, for a total of 15 ships back in service, sailing from several homeports in the United States.
On the issue of mixed-dosing, Perez said that Carnival’s hands are tied due to the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order, which currently does not recognize passengers with a vaccine combination of Pfizer or Moderna with AstraZeneca as fully vaccinated.
“Obviously, we would love to welcome our Canadian guests back onboard. It’s certainly not that we don’t want you onboard, it’s just that because of the way that the Conditional Sail Order was put together, it has not permitted for us to accept, as vaccinated, the mixed doses,” said Perez.
“It doesn’t mean that it won’t change,” he added. “I’m sure there’s a lot of work behind the scenes on trying to get something like that approved.”
For all of Carnival’s health protocols and requirements, click here.
Vanessa Ledesma, Acting CEO & Director General, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association
The CHTA, which represents 33 destinations in the Caribbean, has been steadfast in its support of the region’s private hospitality and tourism sector for the past 59 years, and particularly throughout the pandemic. Ledesma, who took over as Acting CEO in January 2021, said over 85% of its member destinations are considered fully open and ready to welcome back tourists.
“The Caribbean has it all – it appeals to all types of travellers: the adventurer, the eco and cultural explorer, families, soloists, luxury, LGBTQ, romance, and particularly those who are looking for wellness,” said Ledesma.
“We know that it has been challenging for travellers to plan their vacations and figure out what is available and what type of requirements there are,” she added. “To assist travellers in easing the booking experience, we are tracking entry requirements for our 22 member destinations with a grid that details all of the basic entry requirements, including type of testing, window of testing before travel, insurance requirements as well as the forms that need to be completed before travelling.”
To view the grid go to www.caribbeantravel.com.
Michael Deluce, President & CEO, Porter Airlines
After resuming domestic and U.S. operations last month, Porter announced this week that it has officially returned to all 18 of its year-round destinations. When asked what the reaction has been from passengers about the airline’s restart, Deluce said it’s been fantastic.
“The initial response has been very strong and certainly passengers are loving being back in the air and experiencing Porter again, and all the conveniences of Billy Bishop in downtown Toronto,” he said.
Noting that prior to the pandemic approximately one-third of Porter’s revenue came via the travel agent distribution channel, Deluce stressed the importance of travel advisors and how Porter remains committed to strengthening its relationship with them.
“I think as it becomes more competitive, Porter, amongst all the carriers in the marketplace, will continue to fight hard for travel agents’ support,” he said. “That channel is very important to us so we look forward to continuing to expand that portion of our business and working with the entire travel trade community.”
Markham McGill, Director of Sales, The Florida Keys & Key West
What’s the vibe right now in the Florida Keys? “It’s very chill and nobody’s really in a hurry,” said McGill. After the cancellation of many activities and big events due to the pandemic, McGill confirmed that the destination is once again ramping up its social calendar with live concerts and outdoor festivals.
When asked about Florida’s controversial stance against vaccine passports and masking, he assured viewers that the Keys is still taking health and safety seriously.
“There aren’t any mandates for masking but it’s highly encouraged,” said McGill.
He also emphasized the destination’s wide open spaces, which are clearly beneficial at this time.
“There are a lot of opportunities to spread out down here, where distancing is organically occurring,” said McGill. “People are out on some of these remote island spaces, on boats in the water, under the water – you’re not jammed together here and it all happens naturally.”
Liz Scull, General Manager, Canada, Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association
The pandemic has given way to plenty of new trends across the travel industry, including the destination weddings sector. On what emerging trends she has noticed, Scull said she’s seeing a lot of “sequel weddings,” whereby couples who first got married on Zoom are now booking a follow-up ceremony in destination. Also trending are “micro weddings” with just 20-40 guests, as well as post-wedding COVID “bashes,” vacations that newly-wedded couples take with families and close friends.
“But most important to couples and what I see trending is personal space. I think they just want to go to a destination they feel is safe and easy to travel to for a lot of their elderly relatives,” says Scull.
Antonio Teijeiro, Chief Operating Officer, Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts
Bahia Principe, which has resorts in Mexico, Dominican Republic and Jamaica, is well on its way to being fully operational. According to Teijeiro, 10 out of 19 resorts in the area have reopened, with another five opening in November and one in December. And as he noted, Bahia Principe was one of the first hotel chains to reopen, with strict measures of health and safety for guests and team members.
“It hasn’t been easy but we’ve seen steady recovery during spring and summer,” he said.
Due to Canada’s travel restrictions, which were considered among the most stringent in the world, demand for the Caribbean from the Canadian market was “non-existent,” said Teijeiro.
“Nevertheless, since this summer we have seen a slow recovery and the numbers for fall 2021 are looking much better already, with good bookings already for Q1 2022,” he added. “We know that Canadians love to travel, there’s a lot of pent-up demand and we’re ready to welcome all Canadians. We’re very encouraged by the trend we’re seeing in the Canadian market and how it’s coming back.”
To watch ‘Future of Travel: Winter Sun Getaways’ in its entirety, click here.