Sunwing: Interview with Colin Hunter and Sam Char

Sunwing: Interview with Colin Hunter and Sam Char
 – Jean-Pierre Kerten – Apr 07, 2015

During a fam trip in Dubai organized by the Quebec tour operator Godubaï two weeks ago, I had the opportunity, as other participants, to spend some time with Colin Hunter and Sam Char, respectively Chairman and Executive Director of the Sunwing Travel Group. Godubaï was in charge of the logistics of a show given by Colin Hunter at the InterContinental Dubai’s Golf Club on March 26. In an interview in a restaurant in Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall, Colin Hunter and Sam Char agreed to provide an overview of the situation.

Colin Hunter, président du conseil; Sam Char directeur exécutif et Julien Char, coordonnateur aux ventes de Groupe de Voyages Sunwing

Colin Hunter, Chairman of the board; Sam Char, executive director and Julien Char, Sales coordinator, Sunwing Travel Group

About the financial results
Our financial results are better than in previous years. This year we probably had 1.6 million passengers and a turnover of around $1.8 billion. But our good results not only stem from the tour operations, they also result from the positive impact of our vertical integration model in which each element is profitable: airplanes, hotels, exclusive receptive and travel agencies, even if we do not push that last item. Indeed, we have less travel agencies that we originally had inherited with the partnership with TUI. And this is not an area we develop, unlike other tour operators.
About the hotel division
We now have nearly 12 000 rooms, maybe even more, because we are constantly adding more. Cubans sometimes ask us to manage many of their hotels. If we exclude Cuba, we bought a 450 room hotel in St. Lucia that we will develop in the next 18 months. Also, we will open a 600 room hotel in Negril, Jamaica, in May.
Is the hotel acquisition strategy TUI’s? No, our strategies are our own. It’s like the planes we bring here in high season; we often have better opportunities with other carriers than with TUI. We are partners, but we reserve the right to take the best deal.
Charles Lussier et Caroline Lavictoire , de Godubaï en compagnie de Sam Char, Colin Hunter et Julien Char de Groupe de Voyages Sunwing, au belvédère de la tour Burj Khalifa à Dubaï

Charles Lussier and Caroline Lavictoire from Godubaï with Sam Char, Colin Hunter and Julien Char from the Sunwing Travel Group, on the belvedere of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai

About the fleet 
We operated 40 aircrafts this winter and will exploit 10 to 12 this summer. We fly for 34 platforms in Canada, including four in Quebec. We are the first in this regard. When we started operating from Bagotville, we had only one flight per week. This year, we offer 6 weekly flights in the winter. From Quebec City, we offer, this summer, four and a half weekly flights. This is the largest South inventory offered from Quebec by an airline, which has been the case over the past four years. For next winter, we are still in the evaluation process. We are likely to deploy the same fleet, but we’ll be careful, because we anticipate problems such as the devaluation of the Canadian dollar which impacts us negatively, despite the positive impact of the decreasing price of fuel. Also, provincial energy-dependent provinces, such as Alberta with its oil, are in worse financial situation. The province of Quebec has its own challenges with its deficits and the reactions of the electorate towards the government measures to counter them. As for the purchase of large aircraft to operate in Europe, it really is not in our priorities. We look at what’s coming this summer and next summer for European airline services and the competition will be very strong! We prefer to keep our priority: sun destinations.
Our priority is to develop and improve what we do now. And we want to keep the control of our operations from A to Z. We want consumers to know that with Sunwing, they can have everything from A to Z. Our incoming agency, for example, is exclusive to us. We can train them our way and they do not have to change their uniform for serving an operator and then another. We will devote ourselves to keep improving it all, because it works for us. We are seeing increased customer loyalty and the results are positive: we are profitable year after year.
About the competition
We do not like to talk about the competition because we have no control over it. The competitors make their own success or failure. We focus on our operations and we do what we have to do to remain competitive. We do not criticize our competitors; we focus on our own business. Since day one, Sunwing’s management remains the same: we are consistent, we do not change leaders every 2 or 3 years, and our strength is Colin Hunter’s business experience and entrepreneurship and the rigorous control of expenses of the company. It takes a good team and speed in decision making. With us, there are no endless meetings. Members of our management team know the philosophy of the company and they are empowered. We live with their decisions. If they are bad, the decisions makers sometimes have to go.

About the operations in the United States with Vacation Express and the opening of Cuba  
Is it time to develop your Vacation Express US division, following the opening between the US and Cuba? We are the world’s largest tour operator in Cuba. When Cuba will be open to the US market, we will move forward. But it is not yet the case. Standardization will take some time. There are still many issues to resolve. But as we consistently have a better quality hotel inventory in Cuba, we should benefit from the normalization between the two states.

A tip for travel agents?
Agents must take greater advantage of the breadth of our offering to also take commissions on insurance cancellations and pre-sale of tours and excursions that are now possible. They need to increase the shopping cart of their client when he or she is in front of them, including ensuring the return of satisfied customers. They must know their client and they know it. It is now possible for travel agents to sell more Sunwing commissionable products, and that’s the main message we have for them. Our job is to ensure that we offer a wide range of products and provide excellent service. We have a lot of repeat customers. As we specialize in the south, we are able to refine our offers and it’s a good formula since we are always and have always been profitable. We find that people are becoming more skillful with the Internet. This is probably the way forward for those of them who still buy the same trips. But the travel agents who are familiar with their products and customers know how to keep their clients and to bring good income from many products we sell.

See the original article (in French only, videos on the original article aren’t in this website)

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