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Trip stacking, soaring hotel rates and other travel trend need-to-knows: Q&A with FCTG Canada’s Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren, Executive VP for Flight Centre Travel Group Canada


TORONTO — Bookings have nearly doubled since mid-2022 for Flight Centre Travel Group Canada, and revenue is up 132%.

That’s the latest from Brian McLaren, Executive Vice President for Flight Centre Travel Group Canada, who shared his industry insights with Travelweek.

From trip stacking, to inflation’s impact on travel spending habits, to clients booking cruises as a way to dodge soaring hotel rates, McLaren unpacks all the trends in this exclusive interview.

Travelweek: What can you tell us about Flight Centre Canada’s ongoing recovery since outbound travel from Canada reopened in earnest in early 2022?

McLaren: “We’ve been putting a lot of hard work into our business lately, and it’s really paid off.

“Since mid-2022, our bookings have nearly doubled, and our revenue has skyrocketed by an impressive 132%. Aiming to be the best of the best, we’ve launched Flight Centre Vacations, offering our customers curated and vetted itineraries, as well as the Captain’s Pack – a great value add that’s also eco-conscious.

“What’s more, we’ve updated our platforms to make the booking process easier for our customers and consultants alike. Moreover, with all the deals and campaigns we have throughout the year, we believe we offer a value proposition like no other.”


Travelweek: Are booking windows normalizing?

 McLaren: “Yes, we’re seeing a promising shift in travel behaviour, with customers booking their trips much further in advance – especially for Europe and other long-haul destinations. The sheer volume of bookings shows that travellers are regaining their confidence, and eagerly planning their journeys for the first time in years. It’s clear that wanderlust is on the rise again.”


Travelweek: How did Europe perform for Flight Centre Canada this summer, and what are you seeing re: demand for the fall months?  

McLaren: “Europe has been a standout destination. Throughout the summer, we observed a strong demand for the continent, with France, Spain, and Portugal being particularly popular destinations.

“As we approach the end of the year and look ahead, it’s evident that this trend isn’t going away anytime soon. People are still eager to explore the unique cultures, cuisines, and attractions that Europe has to offer.”


Travelweek: Despite the strong numbers, did some travellers have concerns about Europe?  

McLaren: “Absolutely. Europe is top of mind as the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine has sparked worries of it spreading to other parts of the continent. Closer to home, the devastating wildfires have many reassessing plans and opting for alternative destinations instead.”


Travelweek: Hotel rates are soaring. Does Flight Centre Canada’s forecasts see hotel rates levelling off any time soon, and what are you advising travellers?

McLaren: “We’re seeing travel prices soar due to booming demand, labour shortages, and supply chain disruptions, and that includes hotel rates.

“It doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see a levelling off of prices anytime soon, so we recommend that travellers explore various options to save money. These options could include adjusting their travel dates, travelling off-season or booking early.

“Interestingly, many savvy customers are choosing cruises as a comparatively more budget-friendly alternative.”


Travelweek: What travel trends or booking trends have been the most surprising, or unexpected?

McLaren: “There are several standouts, but one of our favourites – we’ve seen lots of incredible firsts, from new customers travelling for the first time to Boomers venturing out of Canada for the first time. It’s exciting being part of their ‘first’ journey.

“Inflation has also led customers to become more price-conscious, so they’re looking for value. While previous restrictions limited travel, this gave our clients time to dream and save for longer vacations. Instead of the usual seven-day trip, they’re now opting for 10 to 14 days, or even longer.

“Additionally, customers are also ‘trip stacking’ – booking multiple trips throughout the year, back-to-back.”


Travelweek: How are forward bookings for winter 2023-24 comparing to a typical winter booking season? 

McLaren: “We’re thrilled to see the market confidence restored with passenger numbers returning to pre-COVID levels. Unsurprisingly, Mexico continues to lead the way among our booked destinations, closely followed by the Dominican Republic.”

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