Canadian Travel Press
Issue Date: Dec 03, 2018
View the full digital edition

Sunwing says hello to Daytona


Pictured above: Sunwing’s COO Andrew Dawson (second from left) and Reg Mendes (right), vice president of USA and cruises, took part in the ribbon cutting ceremony at Daytona Beach International Airport.

Ahead of launching service to Daytona Beach, Sunwing brought 120 travel agents from the Toronto area to Florida’s Atlantic coast for a one-day FAM trip to get a taste of what’s on offer – from its famed beach to top draws like the Daytona International Speedway.

While the twice-weekly service officially takes off on Jan. 28, 2019, the Nov. 20 flight was greeted with a water cannon salute followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB).

Airport director Rick Karl pointed out the route launch marks the first time in over two decades that an international carrier will service the destination.

“The new air service will provide improved access to our community’s top international travel market and bring international airline service to DAB for the first time in over twenty years,” he said.

Operating on Thursdays and Mondays, Sunwing will be the only Canadian carrier to offer direct international service to Daytona Beach from Toronto.

On location at the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach, Sunwing’s chief operating officer Andrew Dawson told Canadian Travel Press the trade remains integral to the company’s success.

“Travel agents are our main source of business still, by a long, long way,” he said. “That’s why we brought everybody today, so they can see Daytona for themselves.”

Sunwing’s Reg Mendes, vice president of USA and cruises, said expanding service to the state stemmed from consumer demand.

Maureen Meheu, Sunwing; Billy Wheeler, Volusia County Council; Sunwing’s Marissa Maheu-Mendes and Reg Mendes; Kate Holcomb, Daytona Beach CVB and Georgia Carter Turner, West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority.

“Our flight services to Florida have been consistently well received, so we’re delighted to be able to add this popular destination,” he said. “Daytona Beach is a great option for those seeking anything from excellent dining and shopping to beach escapes.”

With Canadians already being their top international market, Kate Holcomb of the Daytona Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau is looking forward to the new connectivity.

“We’re so excited about Sunwing being here. When I was at the airport this morning when [the flight] landed, I was actually getting emotional,” she said. “Canadians are absolutely important. They are our major international market, of all the international visitors that we have, Canada is number one.”

Although she already sold a lot of Florida, Sharlene Thompson of Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Mississauga, said prior to the FAM, Daytona Beach wasn’t on her radar for clients.

“[With it’s proximity to Orlando], I can add that onto the pre-cruise or post-cruise,” she said. “I myself never knew about the Speedway. I believe that’s an easy sell for a family. I love the Hard Rock Hotel. With the Starbucks right in front and an ice cream store, clients will love it.”

The new Hard Rock Daytona Beach
features a swimsuit from Taylor Swift.

A day in Daytona
While many may be familiar with its iconic 23-mile beach, Holcomb said there’s much more to do in Daytona Beach.

“Daytona Beach area is such a wonderful vacation spot. You can go on eco-boat tours and see dolphins, manatees, pelicans and all kinds of shore birds, or you can go to a museum or the Daytona International Speedway, the world centre of racing,” she said. “What we find is that we’re a great beach base camp, so you can stay in Daytona Beach. We’re an hour away from St. Augustine, an hour from Kennedy Space Center, and an hour away from the theme parks in central Florida. So, there are lots of ways to extend your vacation and keep everybody in your family happy.”

Here are just a few things clients can get up to during a visit:

Feel the need for speed
Although the Daytona International Speedway is home to the annual DAYTONA 500 NASCAR race, there are year-round racing events and reasons to visit this attraction.

“You can take a tour, they have 30-minute tours, 90-minute tours, and they have a VIP all-access tour, if you really are a super fan, and it takes you inside the Speedway to the Victory Lane and you can get your photo taken,” she said. “But if getting behind the wheel is more your speed, they have the NASCAR Driving Experience where you can actually get behind the wheel of a racing car either as a ride-along or the super package, behind the wheel itself.”

Hit Rock Bottom
Located at ONE DAYTONA, a new retail, dining, and entertainment district, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery serves up handcrafted brews and a rooftop patio overlooking the Speedway. The brewery is part of the Daytona Beach Ale Trail, which features nearly two dozen local breweries, tasting rooms and tap houses to explore.

Satisfy their sweet tooth
Chocolate lovers can tour Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory, which is a family-owned business.

“It’s been in business for over 60 years, and they have the most delicious chocolate,”
she said. “You can see it being made, it’s still being made the same as it always has – handmade, and you get free samples at the end of the tour.”

Spread their wings
Those seeking an Instagrammable moment can pose for a picture with wings painted by local artist and muralist Erica Group. It all also started four years ago when Group painted the first set of angel wings in an alleyway, and has since sparked a social media sensation. There are now multiple wings throughout the county, search #WingsOfTheWest to find exact locations or photo inspiration. The Sunwing group even had their own set of wings to pose with during the FAM.

Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse

Go to the lighthouse
Another possibility is to visit the Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. The tallest lighthouse in the state attracts over 170,000 people each year. Visitors can climb the 203 steps to the top to take in 360-degree views of the Atlantic coastline and Ponce Inlet.

Get a room with a view
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that we don’t have quality product where they can stay,” Holcomb said. “We have some beautiful hotels.”

The 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort is newly remodelled to the tune of $25 million and the Hard Rock Daytona Beach opened in March with 200 oceanfront rooms. Like its counterparts, the Hard Rock is home to lots of musical memorabilia, including a swimsuit from Taylor Swift and a guitar from Tom Petty.

Find a man(atee)
Travellers can search for dolphins, pelicans and manatees on an eco-boat tour adventure through the Intercoastal Waterway by operators like Ponce Inlet Watersports.

“Our area has a lot of distinct characteristics, we’ve got everything from the beach side where you go to the ocean over to the springs. Our most popular one is Blue Springs. In February, there may be as many 450 manatees in the spring at one time,” said Georgia Carter Turner of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority. “It’s not just the beach, I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand here.”

Tips for the trade

Coreen Doucett, travel advisor with The Travel Agent Next Door, shares helpful advice on how to increase bookings to Daytona Beach and insight into what type of clients may be looking to vacation in the coastal Florida spot.

How can agents increase their bookings to Daytona Beach?
With Sunwing offering affordable direct flights to Daytona, this saves your clients the one hour commute from Orlando. It could also be used as an option for cruises departing from Port Canaveral, when the prices in and out of Orlando get too high. It’s an easy commute to the beach from the airport. I, for one, will now be selling packages for the Daytona 500 without the long commute for my clients. I am very excited about this.

What did you learn from the FAM that will help you sell it?
Daytona Beach has a different feel than other tourist destinations in Florida. It’s almost like a step back in time, but not too far back – like the ‘90s. You start to slow down as soon as you get there, you feel the difference. There is a lot less traffic. The airport is smaller with easy access, more so than the other major airports in Florida, and the white–sand walk-able beach is incredible.

What type of clients to do you think may be interested in the destination?
Daytona Beach is great for all types of clients. For families, there’s so much to do. For couples, a girls’ getaway weekend: great shopping, dining and entertainment experiences. It’s for seniors wanting some chill time and relaxing, watching the ocean outside of their hotel room, and a guys’ getaway weekend with the racetrack and great food and local beer venues.

What makes Daytona Beach a great option?
Daytona Beach is different than other tourist destinations in Florida. You can get from the airport to the beach in less than 15 minutes. Easy access to the beach. Lots for families and couples and singles to do in destination. Daytona Beach has some non-Disney theme park touches, such as the GameTime at ONE DAYTONA, Sunsplash Waterpark, The Daytona Speedway museum, a Bandshell on the beach with free entertainment for all ages, and more. With almost 40 km of beautiful unobstructed beaches and plenty of hotel options to suit everyone’s, budget and tastes, there is no reason not to explore this destination.

Do you have anything to add?
Sell Daytona Beach – reach out to the Daytona Beach tourism board. They are so helpful and friendly. Daytona Beach wants Canadians to come and discover their destination.