Canadian travel advisors are firing back at Sunwing over a memo issued to the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) on Wednesday (Jan. 25) stating that the tour operator will not protect commissions on flights that it cancels.
In a statement posted to LinkedIn yesterday, Jamie Angus-Milton, president of Saskatoon, SK-based Uniglobe Carefree Travel Group, called the decision “short-sighted” as Sunwing continues to remove flights in her city.
Saskatchewan, notably, was the first province to experience widespread cancellations when Sunwing, on Dec. 29, suddenly announced it would be suspending all service in the province up until (and including) Feb. 3, 2023.
ACTA “incredibly disappointed” in Sunwing’s decision to not protect commissions
The Prairie Province’s winter program has since been thinned out even more, and while full refunds are being offered to impacted passengers, travel agents are paying the price as commissions get recalled.
Yesterday, Sunwing said their policy is “in line with normal procedures and industry standards,” noting that it regrets the inconvenience it has caused.
Earlier this month, at a House Transport committee hearing, Andrew Dawson, president of tour operations for Sunwing, said the company was committed to finding ways to make advisors “whole” again.
What this means, for now, is that Sunwing will increase commission to 10 per cent on vacation packages booked between Jan. 19, 2023 and Feb. 20, 2023, for departures up to May 31, 2023.
READ MORE: Paying a big price – aviation experts weigh in on Sunwing’s struggles
Sunwing is also exploring other ways to support advisors in the months ahead, such as through bonus STAR point promotions for the upcoming summer.
But Angus-Milton says this offer is problematic – especially for advisors in Saskatchewan who now have limited options on the Sunwing menu.
“What this bonus commission will do is benefit travel agencies in Ontario and Alberta who still have Sunwing flights to sell – agents/agencies who were not impacted by these cancellations,” Angus-Milton wrote. “It is a very weak offer with no merit.”
She also takes issue with Sunwing calling its actions an “industry standard.”
“Cancelling an entire season is not [an] industry standard,” Angus-Milton said. “To Sunwing, I say ‘What’s right is right, even if no one is doing it and what’s wrong is still wrong, even if everyone is doing it.’”
“The travel agencies of Saskatchewan are asking Sunwing to do better.”
A month of cancellations
For a month now, Sunwing has been in the hot seat as travel pros demand answers that explain the operational failures that climaxed during Christmas when a snowstorm slammed into some parts of Canada.
Many clients who travelled over the holidays were forced to hunker down for several days in destinations, shuffling from hotels to airports and back, waiting for up to 12 hours (or more) a day for updates on when their flights home would take place.
In its memo yesterday, Sunwing said that while some itineraries were interrupted over Christmas, most of its customers enjoyed their holidays with “minimal disruption.”
“News stories have exaggerated the travel disruptions and overstated the extent of route cancellations,” Sunwing clarified.
Still, the fallout continues to sting as Sunwing scales down operations in an attempt to restore normal service levels.
Len Corrado, president of Sunwing Airlines, told MPs at the Transport hearing earlier this month that the company struggled after its request to hire 63 pilots as temporary foreign workers for winter was denied.
The reason why Sunwing’s request wasn’t approved (after being green-lit for several years) isn’t clear, but the consequences have been disastrous.
READ MORE: “Enough is enough”: Agents blast Sunwing for suspending SK flights, recalling commissions
This month alone, Sunwing has cut half of its future flights from Saskatoon and almost all seasonal flights from Regina.
In Atlantic Canada, select sun routes out of Fredericton, Moncton and Halifax have been removed.
Two departures in Winnipeg (to Los Cabos and Mazatlan) will been scrapped on Feb. 10 and the winter schedule in Northern Ontario, as of Feb. 1, is cancelled completely.
“With the support of advisors, we planned our highest travel schedule since pre-pandemic for the holiday season,” Sunwing wrote yesterday. “Unfortunately, we experienced travel disruptions brought on by a convergence of factors, including significant weather events across Canada in the lead-up to Christmas, which limited our ability to reposition aircraft and crew to other airports, resulting in flight delays for some customers and cancellations on specific routes.”
Holding up one’s end of a bargain
Warman, SK-based travel consultant Ashley Doell, owner of Doell Travel, is “beyond disappointed” in Sunwing’s handling of the situation.
“They call us their trade ‘partner’ but the way they’ve treated agents is anything but a partnership,” Doell told PAX. “They didn’t hold up their end of the bargain for our clients and now they’re once again not holding up their end of the bargain for the travel agent community.”
In Saskatchewan specifically, January is typically the busiest month for travel, so the cancellations have had a deep impact on Doell, who says she’s now out tens of thousands of dollars.
Among her cancelled files was a destination wedding group of nearly 70 people that was supposed to depart on Jan. 8. When their flight was cancelled, the group decided to just cancel completely.
“Their bonus commission offer is a slap in the face considering that many people who had their trips cancelled want to book with a tour operator other than Sunwing – and I can’t blame them for feeling that way,” Doell said.
Furthermore: “Anyone else that’s willing to let them have another chance is having a hard time finding a flight that’s within an eight-hour drive from where we live,” she said.
READ MORE: ACTA calls for commission protection amid Sunwing cancellations; anger grows
Doell, too, says the offer only helps agents that haven’t been impacted by the cancellations.
“It didn’t take a lot of planning to realize that this wouldn’t help the agents that were impacted most,” she said. “The right thing would have been to pay us the commission on trips that were fully refunded and unable to be transferred or saved.”
“This move definitely has me re-evaluating who I want to do business with moving forward.”
“The industry needs a complete re-haul”
Rosthern, SK-based Kelly Klassen of Trevello is on the same page.
“Not only do we lose the commissions on December and January bookings, but we have no options to re-book new packages as availability is so limited,” Klassen said.
“It feels like they are just focused on getting new business and not valuing the agents who brought business to them in the first place.”
Klassen said she now owes Sunwing $14,000 in recalled commission –“which is nine to 12 months of work that I have put into those bookings that I will never get paid on.”
READ MORE: A “catastrophic failure”: Airlines grilled over holiday travel chaos; commissions addressed
She also disputes Sunwing’s definition of industry standards.
“I have never seen these kinds of cancellations in my 12-year career,” Klassen said, saying that she is certain it all has to do with Sunwing’s failure to hire the right number of pilots to cover the routes they committed to.
“Their lack of planning should not result in me not getting paid,” Klassen said. “Surely they could have done the right thing, even though it is not ‘the industry standard.’”
“The industry needs a complete re-haul.”
ACTA “incredibly disappointed”
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), meanwhile, is “incredibly disappointed” in Sunwing’s decisions.
“ACTA continues to call on Sunwing to do the right thing and protect commission,” said Wendy Paradis, ACTA’s president, in a statement on Wednesday.
ACTA is also urging for “immediate improvements” to its communications to ensure clear, consistent, and timely sharing of information so that agents are aware of flights changes before their clients, Paradis added.
“Travel agents are a crucial support to suppliers and have invested significant resources in planning and rescheduling and cancelling travel due to Sunwing’s decision and are now being told they will not be compensated for their work,” she said.
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