Hunter: Marriott Deal, Fuelled by Pandemic, Gives Sunwing Broader Client & Market Base

Sunwing Travel Group’s partnership with Marriott International gives it access to a much larger customer base in a broader range of markets, Sunwing’s CEO Stephen Hunter told the Globe and Mail.

The two companies announced an agreement Tuesday which would see  brand in the first quarter of 2021.

“Once the pandemic hit everybody in the travel sector, it doesn’t matter whether it’s hotels or tour operators [or] airlines, everyone kind of let their guard down a little bit and started talking to competitors more,” Hunter told the Globe.

After four years of talks, Hunter said it was the pandemic that underlined the need for Sunwing Travel Group and Marriott to ink a deal.

The agreement doubles Marriott’s all-inclusive resorts portfolio and adds two destinations — Saint Lucia and Antigua — to its roster. Sunwing Airlines provides about 30 per cent of the clients to the company’s hotels.

As part of the agreement, Sunwing customers have access to Marriott’s Bonvoy loyalty program, which Hunter said deepens the potential pool of customers in the United States.

“If you’re a business guy and you fly to New York every week, building up points, where are you going to use those points? You’re most likely to use those points on your own personal vacations somewhere down south,” Hunter said.

Hunter noted its Blue Diamond Resorts were profitable again after reopening in the latter part of 2020, but business has “dried up” since Canada introduced tighter travel restrictions.

Financial terms were not released, and Sunwing retains ownership of the hotels. Marriott will receive an undisclosed commission for bookings made through its website.

Sunwing suspended operations on 29JAN until 30APR, following Ottawa’s request for all domestic carriers to cease flying to sun destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico. Previously, it had grounded flights from MAR to NOV last year.

Sunwing recently tapped a federal government loan program for $50 million to help it weather the pandemic. Last week it was anounced the company is also fielding a takeover offer by an unnamed party.

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