TORONTO — Sunwing’s Andrew Dawson, President of Tour Operations, can’t wait for winter to start.
That’s because Sunwing just unveiled its 2023-2024 winter sun program, with a 15% boost in capacity compared to last year, and flights to 26 sun destinations from 23 gateways across Canada.
Winter sun packages from Regina and Saskatoon are back, after programs from those cities were cancelled earlier this year. Sun packages from Atlantic Canada are back too.
Dawson covers all this and more, including lessons learned from the 2022 holiday season, in this new interview with Travelweek.
When should travellers (and travel advisors) expect to start seeing WestJet-branded aircraft for Sunwing Vacations packages? What about Sunwing’s exclusive partnership with RIU?
Read on for the full Q&A, plus keep an eye out for Sunwing’s trade incentives and perks in the months ahead.
Travelweek: Sunwing’s 2023-24 winter lineup looks wonderful. What are you most excited about with this program?
Dawson: “We are excited to be returning to pre-pandemic travel levels and growing capacity by 15% in Canada overall versus last winter. We have a really robust winter program with flights from 23 gateways from coast to coast to 26 sun destinations, including more flight service and travel options for key regions such as Atlantic Canada, the Prairies and in the province of Quebec, regions where we have a longstanding presence and commitment to providing our customers with affordable travel to sun destinations.”
Travelweek: When should travellers (and travel advisors) expect to start seeing WestJet-branded aircraft for Sunwing Vacations packages?
Dawson: “We are delivering a Sunwing winter schedule this year, with a robust assortment of Sunwing Vacations packages available to Canadians across the country.
“The winter flight schedule is being planned by Sunwing Airlines and flown on WG flight numbers. On routes or date ranges where there aren’t Sunwing flights, we will also continue to offer ‘E-Packages’ utilizing scheduled seats available from WestJet and other scheduled airlines.
“As we look ahead to the eventual airline integration, in future Sunwing Vacations will be in a position to further expand its sun leisure offerings across WestJet’s extensive network on a year-round basis, providing Canadians with even more opportunities to travel to their preferred sun destinations.”
Travelweek: Does Sunwing Vacations still have its exclusive partnership with RIU for winter 2023-24, and going forward could that be impacted by the WestJet Group acquisition?
Dawson: “RIU Hotels & Resorts remains one of our longest standing resort partners, and a favourite among Canadians of all ages with locations across the destinations we serve, and we look forward to furthering that partnership this winter and in the years to come.”
Travelweek: Sunwing, along with several other major Canadian airlines, was on the hot seat after the 2022 holiday season. For many consumers, Sunwing the airline and Sunwing the tour operator are one and the same. What lessons learned from that period have really been helpful for Sunwing Vacations?
Dawson: “We and all other tour operators have taken away some key learnings from past winter weather events, and for us at Sunwing we have specifically planned for some slack in our schedule to account for potential weather events in future, to enable Sunwing Airlines to reposition aircraft or crew if or where needed.
“In addition, continued communication with our customers and with travel advisors remains of paramount importance to all of us at Sunwing. With that, we are excited for the winter and the wide range of flights, vacation packages and destinations available to Canadians through Sunwing Vacations – with service from 23 gateways to 26 sun destinations, we are planning for our busiest winter season since pre-pandemic.”
Travelweek: It’s great to see Sunwing back with a full program out of Regina and Saskatoon, and Atlantic Canada, after the winter sun program cuts earlier this year. For any agents in those regions who might be hesitant to book Sunwing, what’s your message?
Dawson: “Sunwing Vacations is here to stay, and we are committed to providing Canadians from coast to coast with reliable, efficient and affordable service from their local gateways of choice to a variety of sun destinations across the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and the U.S.
“This includes our valued customers in the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, and we look forward to continuing to offer dream escapes to sun destinations this winter and beyond.”
Travelweek: Has full service also returned to gateways in northern Ontario that also saw cuts in early 2023?
Dawson: “Unfortunately, due to operational issues last winter – in particular with scheduling aircraft and crewing, and the availability of customs and immigration – we had to reduce the once weekly flight programs from Sudbury, North Bay and Sault Ste Marie, and these have not been reinstated for the coming winter season. However, we are happy to continue to offer service from Thunder Bay.”
Travelweek: What should travel advisors across Canada know about Sunwing Vacations’ commitment to agents heading into this winter 2023-24 season?
Dawson: “We value our travel advisors immensely and the services they provide our mutual customers, and we are committed to continue working collaboratively with them as we head into the peak winter months to ensure a successful winter season.
“We know how instrumental travel advisors are to educating customers and with their help and support we will continue offering the most variety of vacation packages to Canadians and further cement our standing as the leading tour operator in Canada.
“We are also planning for some exciting agent incentives and perks for the months ahead so encourage advisors to stay tuned for more details in the months ahead!”