Thrilled to be back:
A Q&A With Sunwing’s Andrew Dawson
While the global pandemic has hammered the global travel industry, Sunwing Travel Group’s COO, Andrew Dawson has no doubt that the travel industry “will get through this,” observing: “I’m confident we’ll come out stronger on the other side.” Dawson sits down with CTP this week and talks about what to expect from Sunwing going forward.
Sunwing resumed partial service at the beginning of November (Nov. 6). How are things going so far? How are agents and their clients responding to Sunwing›s return?
We’re thrilled to be back in the skies and helping Canadians make a safe and responsible return to travel under our wing. It’s been a long few months without travel and we know that many people are eager to get back to the tropics.
We’ve had a very positive response from our travel agents – they had some eager customers who were excited to return back to destination and we heard that Sunwing made them feel safe throughout the entire journey.
Our flight service resumed on November 6 and we’re offering flights from Toronto and Montreal to Punta Cana and Cancun, with flights to Varadero beginning on December 13. We hope to announce new gateways and destinations in the near future.
Obviously, health and safety has become a critical part of what potential travellers are looking for when they purchase travel. What initiatives has Sunwing launched to address this demand in the market?
To help customers travel with peace of mind, we have implemented our Safe with Sunwing commitment which has the highest Canadian health and safety standards in place throughout the entire vacation experience. From the moment, customers check-in at the airport to their flight, their transfers from the airport to the resort, their time in destination and their journey home, their health and safety is our top priority. Additionally, we have partnered with global healthcare leader, Medcan, to provide medical expertise on our Safe with Sunwing program, and employee health and safety planning.
Some of the measures that our Safe with Sunwing commitment includes are:
- HEPA air filters on board, which remove 99.9% of airborne particles in the cabin;
- Treating aircraft with AEGIS Microbe Shield®, a powerful antimicrobial spray that controls and prevents the growth of bacteria on surfaces (Sunwing is proud to be the first Canadian airline to implement this treatment on planes);
- Reduced capacity on transfer vehicles in destination with frequent disinfection;
- Contactless methods of communication with Sunwing Experiences representatives who are available to assist customers 24/7;
- A 360˚ Clean Approach at its Royalton Luxury Resorts, where common areas are cleaned hourly; and
- Certification of all Sunwing Experiences excursions by the World Travel Tourism Council.
Where do travel agents fit in Sunwing’s plans going forward?
Travel agents are extremely important for Sunwing. Our relationships with travel professionals are fundamental to our business model and we look forward to continuing to grow our many excellent partnerships in the industry. The value of the services and guidance that travel agents provide our mutual customers has never been more important, and working closely with our retail partners is paramount as we help to rebuild the travel industry.
One of the things that we keep hearing over and over again is that agents are looking for training opportunities. Does Sunwing have an agency training program in place to help agents upgrade their product knowledge?
At Sunwing, we are always looking to invest in the travel agents we partner with. That’s why we have a travel agent portal with useful resources and information and host frequent webinars to talk about new developments and initiatives. Agents can also join our ‘Sunwing – Exclusively for Agents’ Facebook page to get the latest scoop on our promotions, webinars and developments. Our Sales and Business Development Team are always available to do customized training and virtual updates for all retail groups and happy to discuss opportunities at any time.
How is Sunwing handling product launches for 2020? Are you doing them? Or are you taking another approach to getting the message out to agents?
Plans for spring product launches have not been confirmed at this time, but rest assured Sunwing will keep travel agents up to date with our plans and will be getting the messages out in a variety of ways. We would love to see travel agents in person as soon as possible.
The company recently conducted a survey of Canadian consumers and found that a good percentage are ready to travel. What else did you find out in that survey that you can share with CTP’s readers?
Our survey revealed some good news for the travel industry, indicating that Canadians are ready to get back to travel, safely and responsibly.
The survey showed that 56% of Canadians are interested in going on vacation in the next year, and that regular vacation-goers are even more willing to head down to the tropics with 71% of respondents saying they’re considering a vacation.
All-inclusive getaways are a popular choice, with 50% of survey respondents saying they’re interested in planning an all-inclusive vacation. This finding makes a lot of sense, since in this time of uncertainty most Canadians are looking for a vacation that is seamless and hassle-free. That’s exactly where Sunwing comes in – we’re able to offer vacations that are truly frictionless from start to finish, with the highest Canadian standards every step of the way.
Travel insurance is a big issue for consumers, what is Sunwing doing in this area to make its customers feel more comfortable about travelling?
We know travel insurance is important for customers in today’s travel landscape, which is why as part of our Safe with Sunwing commitment we’re offering complimentary Manulife COVID-19 travel insurance on select vacation packages booked between September 17, 2020 and November 30, 2020, for travel between October 16, 2020 and December 31, 2021. The insurance is designed to cover emergency medical and quarantine costs associated with COVID-19 in the unlikely event that a customer contracts the virus while travelling with Sunwing.
Insurance covers up to $200,000 in medical insurance covering expenses related to a positive COVID-19 test; including quarantine costs of up to $150 per day for an individual and $300 per day for a family, for a maximum of up to 14 days and a total of $4,200 in quarantine costs. The coverage also includes $500 in interruption insurance coverage should the Government of Canada’s travel advisory for international destinations move from Level 3 to Level 4. Full terms and conditions can be found on our website.
One of the things that I see more and more of is destinations and hotels offering long-stay, work-remote programs. Is this something that a tour company could do? And is/would Sunwing consider launching this kind of product?
Yes, that is something we are definitely doing. We’re helping Canadians trade in their living room for an ocean view so they can work or study from paradise with our Upgrade Your Office offer. This great promotion is available at Royalton Splash Punta Cana, Royalton Riviera Cancun and Royalton Negril, offering everything that somebody may need to work (or study) remotely.
All packages include complimentary access to the resort business centre, All-In Connectivity™ including resort-wide Wi-Fi, portable power banks, complimentary 24-hour access to the Diamond Club™ Lounge to help travellers stay productive, daily sunset yoga classes to decompress, nightly happy hours to network with fellow professionals and much more. Plus, travellers won’t have to worry about chores or meal prep because all of their drinks and meals are included.
What about Canada? Is Sunwing looking at introducing a Canadian program to take advantage of consumer interest in travelling close to home?
Sunwing has operated a Summer domestic program for over a decade now. Unfortunately, fleet disruptions meant we had to scale back in 2019, and we had to cancel the 2020 program as a result of the pandemic. For the Summer of 2021 we’re going to resume offering daily flights between Vancouver and Toronto. In addition, our ever-popular flight program between Toronto and Newfoundland will also return, with service to St. John’s, Stephenville and Gander. I’m sure there will be lots of pent up consumer demand, and full details of all flights will be announced in the coming weeks.
Last question … is the industry going to get through this? Why?
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has impacted the travel industry in an unprecedented way. That said, the travel industry will get through this, and I’m confident we’ll come out stronger on the other side.
Canadians are eager to get back to travel safely and responsibly and, at Sunwing, we have spent months developing new health and safety protocols and investing in new technologies to get ready for the ‘new world’ of travel that is slowly emerging. There is no doubt that it will take time to see travel pick back up to pre-pandemic levels and there may be more challenges up ahead, but we will continue to weather the storm and we’ll do it together.
This is a crucial time for the travel industry to be working collectively to educate Canadians about how they can travel safely and responsibly, and still have a great time. We look to our travel agent partners to help convey these messages, since they are the experts that customers trust and listen to – and we are here to support them with anything they may need to help make Sunwing customers feel at ease with travelling again.