More details have emerged about the deal, announced 02MAR, that would see WestJet acquire Sunwing Vacations and Sunwing Airlines.
The acquisition requires regulatory approval, and in a statement issued jointly by the companies, they indicated they expected that approval to go ahead, and the sale to close by late this year.
Upon closure of the deal, a new tour operating business unit will be created under the WestJet Group, to include both Sunwing Vacations and WestJet Vacations Inc. It will be led by Sunwing’s CEO Stephen Hunter.
The tour operator business will be headquartered in Toronto, with a Quebec head office in Laval, and the Sunwing brand will be marketed alongside WestJet Vacations. The WestJet Group will maintain its head office in Calgary.
While other financial terms of the deal have not been released, it was announced that Sunwing's current shareholders will become equity holders in the WestJet Group.
Statements by the companies about the benefits of the deal focused on jobs and growth, and unions quickly responded.
According to WestJet and Sunwing, the deal “strengthens both companies following the impact of the pandemic.”
"This is an exciting moment for WestJet, Sunwing and Canada's travel industry," said Alexis von Hoensbroech, CEO of WestJet. "We are bringing together two highly complementary businesses with powerhouse brands to strengthen our successful leisure business and deliver greater value to our guests."
"This combination brings together Canada's two original low-cost carriers and positions us to accelerate growth in value-oriented travel, already the fastest growing segment of the airline market. It creates new opportunities for our people, our operational partners and supports the recovery from a global pandemic that has been particularly challenging for the Canadian travel and tourism industry including local airports and businesses we work closely with," added von Hoensbroech.
The companies claim that, “Canadian travellers will have access to more competitive airfares and affordable vacation packages through the combined strength of the companies.”
“My team and I are excited for the future,” said Sunwing CEO Stephen Hunter.
"We have a very promising future as part of The WestJet Group, which is one of the only airlines in the world that has not issued debt or equity during the pandemic, or accepted sector-specific government aid. The combination of their strong balance sheet and growth trajectory with Sunwing's unparalleled expertise in creating differentiated vacation packages will ensure the success of the new vacation division.”
As Open Jaw reported Wednesday, upon closing of the deal, Sunwing will repay government pandemic loans, which totalled over $300 million between large employer supports and funds provided to refund customers for trips not taken.
WestJet and Sunwing statements didn’t just talk about job retention - they actually talked about new job creation.
The companies indicated their intentions to maintain union agreements, a subject top of mind for unionized employees.
“We hope the deal means expansion and stability for our company,” said president of CUPE 4070 Crystal Hill. It represents nearly 4,000 WestJet cabin crew members.
“We also acknowledge that this news creates uncertainty and anxiety, in particular for Sunwing employees,” she added.
Unifor was much more glowing in its praise of the deal, saying it “means more jobs for Canadians.”
The union represents about 700 WestJet airport customer service and baggage agents in Calgary and Vancouver airports, as well as 452 Sunwing pilots.
"Congratulations to WestJet and Sunwing for reaching a deal," said Scott Doherty, the Executive Assistant to the Unifor's National President. "With the federal government lifting travel restrictions and more Canadians travelling more for business and pleasure, we look forward to fostering good relationships between WestJet and Sunwing in their new capacity."
"Unifying two leading airlines presents new possibilities and work for Unifor WestJet employees," said Jamie Mote and Karen Berry, of Unifor Local 531's bargaining committee, which represents WestJet workers. "It secures our future."
Barret Armann, President of Unifor Local 7378, which represents Sunwing pilots, added, "Our focus is the success and long-term careers of our pilots going forward as we build back better in the Canadian travel industry."
According to Unifor, the deal can successfully leverage assets.
“WestJet will add increased capacity to destinations. Instead of Sunwing supplementing seasonal demand with imported aircraft, the company will dedicate their existing planes, otherwise used seasonally, to operate year-round in Canada,” its statement said.
“This translates to WestJet being able to offer more affordable fares by immediately expanding its low-cost footprint in Canada.”