Most people would agree that a week-long holiday deserves a little more purchase consideration than a pair of jeans, yet, if you’re like most Canadians, you don’t have a clue which brand you ‘travel.’
The question is – should you? Recent events would indicate the answer to that is a resounding “yes!” But buying travel by brand is a little more complicated than finding your true boot-cut fit.
Most likely, you are buying from a variety of companies all stitched together, so familiarizing yourself with some basic jargon will help you understand who is responsible for what – and therefore, who to turn to if things should get ugly.
In the case of the recently failed Conquest Vacations – this former brand name represents what is known as an ITC operator or wholesaler. Wholesalers do not generally own, manage or produce their own product. They are essentially middle-men or brokers. They negotiate rates with resorts and cruise lines, charter aircraft, arrange for transfers, price the whole thing, print a brochure and voila! — a prêt-a-travel vacation package hits the runway.
Canada’s two largest tour operators are Sunquest and Transat. Sunquest is owned by British travel giant Thomas Cook. Transat Holidays is Quebec-based, a subsidiary of Transat AT, which also owns Nolitours and Air Transat. Among the other majors, Signature Vacations is owned by European travel powerhouse TUI AT, while Air Canada Vacations is a subsidiary of Air Canada. Their parent companies are all publicly traded so you can track their performance on the stock exchange. Sunwing Vacations – with its charter airline sister Sunwing Airlines – is a privately owned Canadian operation.
Some operators, Air Canada Vacations for example, position the brand as offering higher-end product. Others, like Sunwing, tend to focus on price. All of them sell sun destinations in winter and European and Canadian domestic travel in summer so as to best deploy aircraft and exploit seasonal demand.
When shopping for a vacation package your best bet is to consult a travel agent who has the inside scoop on these companies. Travel agents are also middle-men, but a popular misconception is that agents mark up the tour operator’s selling price. They do not. And, more often than not, they will find you a better price than you could on your own. They have the best tools to find you a deal and the knowledge to find you the right fit.
In fact, those powerhouse online travel brands, Expedia and Travelocity, are also travel agents. They just aren’t as personal as Maggie on the corner. And chances are, Maggie’s travelled to most of the islands and can tell you whether or not the beach is powdery or gravelly, or whether the terrace restaurant’s location is too steep for your mother-in-law. Again, it’s all about the right fit.
If you are not a package holiday type and prefer to be independent there are literally thousands of options. Creating your own package of assembled components is referred to in the business as ‘F.I.T.’ travel, an acronym for ‘fully independent travel,’ nothing to do with whether or not it fits. Most of the brands listed above also offer independent travel where you can mix-and-match your choices. And many smaller tour operators are F.I.T. specialists. We’ll look at these in a separate article. In the meantime, talk to a well-worn, well-travelled agent. TakeOffeh’s guiding principle is: ‘Don’t take off without one.’
Photo Credits: Creative Shot, Thomas Cook Group, ImagineGolf