Toronto Ontario (PRWEB) November 15, 2013
Tour operator Sunquest is hoping to cash in on vacation seekers who are willing to make the trek to U.S. border airports such as Buffalo or Detroit.
The Toronto-based operator will announce Thursday that it is now selling vacation packages that depart from five U.S. airports near the Canadian border to 14 U.S. cities and a dozen cities in Mexico and the Caribbean.
“We are reacting to consumer demand,” said Sunquest president Frank DeMarinis in a telephone interview. “This is an opportunity that we missed in Canada because it has gone to U.S. companies.”
According to 2012 estimates, 5 million Canadians a year are driving across the U.S. border to catch flights from airports such as Buffalo in search of cheaper fares.
Lower airport fees and taxes, combined with a stronger Canadian dollar, have drawn travellers to cross the border, thanks to better fare deals in the United States.
Canadian airlines and airports have long complained that they are competing at a disadvantage due to lower airport fees in the U.S. As well, airport authorities must pay rent to the crown, estimated at $260 million a year, a rule that doesn’t apply in the United States.
DeMarinis said Sunquest will continue to offer packages from Canada — using both Air Canada and WestJet Airlines — but is adding U.S. departures through agreements with six U.S. carriers including Delta, United, American, and JetBlue.
“We are giving Canadians what they are looking for. We want to give them choice,” he said, noting all sales, even if the flight originates in the United States, will be in Canadian dollars. “It also helps Canadian travel agencies as opposed to losing their client to a U.S. firm.”
The leisure travel business is a lucrative and growing part of the Canadian market, with lots of competition from big players like WestJet and Air Canada, which launched its leisure carrier Rouge in July, as well as other companies including Transat and Sunwing.
DeMarinis concedes that travellers who opt for the Buffalo or Detroit option might want to stay overnight in a hotel if they face an early departure, or leave extra time in the event of bad weather or border waits.
A quick survey of Sunquest’s website shows some packages are very similarly priced on both sides of the border. Others have a cost savings of $100 to $200 a person.
Sunquest estimates that on average, the savings is about $275 a person, or $550 for a couple.
The Star put in a few options, and found a seven-night, all-inclusive stay at the Grand Bahia Bavaro resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, that will cost $1,159 a person plus $401.67 in taxes and fees, including the flight from Toronto.
For the same stay, beginning Dec. 8, the package from Buffalo costs $709 a person, plus $420.66 in taxes and fees. For a couple, the savings translates into more than $800. The flight from Toronto is a direct flight on WestJet that departs at 9:45 a.m., while the Buffalo departure leaves at 6:15 a.m. and requires an almost four-hour layover at the airport in Charlotte, N.C.
“I think we have opened an opportunity for families, which would typically go away every second or third year,” DeMarinis said. “Five million Canadians are currently flying out of U.S. cities.”
He doesn’t worry that the U.S. departure packages will cut into Sunquest’s business in Canada.
“In our view, the Toronto market and other departure cities remain strong. This is an alternative,” he said.