This is the year to promote that usually elusive last-minute March Break getaway
Jamaica beach in Montego bay.

This is the year to promote that usually elusive last-minute March Break getaway

TORONTO — March Break looms and it’s hard to say who needs the break more: travellers or the travel trade.

While families are gearing up for their week of R&R, travel agents might be wondering when they’ll get some respite from soothing clients’ nerves about U.S. dollar sticker shock, not to mention Zika.

What’s the good news? A few Arctic blasts finally brought snow to much of Canada over the past couple of weeks and the phones are ringing again.

At Air Canada Vacations, Varadero, Montego Bay and Punta Cana are the big sellers for March Break this year, although Vicky Allaire, Director, Payload & Groups Commercial, says there’s still some space available for last-minute bookings. “Air Canada Vacations is doing very well for winter 2016. Our bookings and passengers are ahead of last year and we are confident that we will continue to see an increase based on our incentives, promotions and value-adds,” said Allaire.

Over at Transat Holidays there is still space available for last-minute shoppers but “certain routes are getting very limited so it is best to encourage clients to secure their March break vacation as soon as possible,” said spokesperson Pierre Tessier. For the west Mexico is always popular and there is still some space available in Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta.

Lauren Stewart, Media Relations for WestJet Vacations, says there’s still room on flights to several Mexico destinations including Cancun, Merida, Huatulco and Loreto as well as sun spots in Cuba and Jamaica. WestJet Vacations is offering savings worth up to $840 per room at Moon Palace in Cancun. Stewart also recommends the Cuba combo tour with four nights in Varadero and three nights in Havana City (or start in Havana City and end in Varadero). Other WestJet Vacations deals include first nights free at select Sandals Resorts in the Caribbean.

“I would encourage folks to book now as the inventory we do still have available won’t last. Also remember [clients] can collect and redeem WestJet dollars for [their] WestJet Vacation,” said Stewart.

Sunquest meanwhile is reporting limited March Break availability in Barbados, Hawaii, Los Cabos, Punta Cana, Montego Bay and Puerto Vallarta. “We recommend that clients with an interest in these destinations do so quickly,” says Executive Vice President, Bryan Klompas.

While there is air space available to Cancun, choice of hotel is dwindling fast, he adds. The only exception is the Atlantic provinces where seats are starting to dry up to Cancun.

Klompas says Sunquest’s access to multiple sources of airlift allows consumers to get to their preferred destination even when direct flights sell out.

“We do have a perfect March break option for families,” he adds: a first child free deal at the Iberostar Bavaro in Punta Cana for the entire month of March, available from every gateway across Canada.

Mexico and the Caribbean will always draw their fair share of March Break travellers. What about the U.S.? According to the latest figures from Statistics Canada Canadian residents made about 3.4 million trips to the U.S. in December 2015, down 1.7% compared with November and down considerably from the 4.26 million trips in December 2014. The number of plane trips by Canadian residents to the U.S. fell from 695,000 in December 2014 to 639,000 in December 2015.

The downward trend for travel to the U.S. will no doubt continue as long as the Canadian dollar struggles. While Canadians contributed to record-setting tourism figures for Florida in 2015 – some 4 million Canadians made the trip down to the Sunshine State last year, up from 3.8 million in 2014 – the U.S. is a tough sell in 2016.

“Travel to the U.S. is a definite challenge this year and most of it is related to the currency situation but one needs to take into account that the cost of living in the U.S. is lower in most cities than in Canada, so many food items are a lot cheaper even with the currency conversion,” said TravelBrands CEO Zeina Gedeon.

From the east TravelBrands’ short-haul destinations like New York and Chicago are doing well despite the currency issue, she says. “We are finding Canadians still want to get away and short weekend getaways are cost-effective and don’t break the bank.”

There are definite bright spots in Orlando as Canadians are choosing different products to save money, she adds. “We are also seeing clients buying down. Where they used to book a five-star, they are now choosing a four-star, or rather than booking two hotel rooms, they are opting for a one- or two-bedroom condo.”

Self-catering units appeal to those who want to save on dining out. “We offer three- to five- bedroom homes with private pool and games room, within a 30-minute drive to Walt Disney World where extended families can stay together,” said Gedeon. “We even throw in a welcome pack which includes bread, butter, eggs, cheese, orange juice, soft drinks, milk and coffee – everything for [that first] breakfast meal.”

Theme parks including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld all are offering savings but Canadians are selecting the shorter day passes so they can at least experience the parks but then still have free days to stay by the hotel pool or go to the outlet malls for some shopping bargains, she said.

Gedeon added that she’s also seeing strong growth in the beachfront properties in Hawaii. “Many of the hotels have given us major rate concessions (free nights, 20-30% discounts, free value adds like room upgrades), and we are passing these on to our clients. Canadians are still traveling but are definitely looking for savings and value.”

WestJet Vacations’ deals to the U.S., including every fourth night free at Sheraton Park Hotel or the Hilton Anaheim for Disneyland visitors, savings of up to 35% at Walt Disney World Resort hotels plus five-day theme park tickets for the price of four in Orlando and savings worth up to $850 per room at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii.

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