This week's travel news

Cruising, travel deals, hotel prices, WestJet, Air Canada, Cuba

Take off eh.comThis Week’s Take offers you a capsule summary of the high and low lights of’s Daily Dispatches from the past seven days.

Before You Walk The Plank
The author of the Berlitz Complete Guide To Cruising and Cruise Ships is warning potential passengers that deals that seem too good to be true probably are. As England’s Daily Mail reported, Douglas Ward doesn’t dispute that it’s a buyer’s market for cruising these days, as lines have had to crank down the rates and ramp up the incentives to fill their cabins. But he also offers a warning: “As cruise lines have taken their cue from outfits like Ryanair which charge supplements for almost everything, the range of add-ons in cruising can take the glow off an apparent give-away price.” Cruise pricing is complex. The first thing to know is that most advertised prices are for the lowest category of ‘inside’ cabin – that means no window onto the sea. As with airline pricing, there are taxes, fees and surcharges to consider. Tipping can add up too. Other potentially costly items are drinks – both alcoholic and non — Internet usage, shore excursions, spa treatments and dining choices outside the main dining room. In some cases, Ward says, cruise lines offer ‘all-exclusive’ pricing. That’s not to say there aren’t great deals out there, as there certainly are, but make sure you do your homework or book with a professional who can do it for you.

There Will Be Deals
The travel Industry is rife with speculation about the marriage of two of Canada’s largest packaged vacation operators – Signature and Sunwing. The overall consensus is it will keepprices low this winter. The union of Signature Vacations and the Sunwing Travel Group appears to have been a bit of a shotgun wedding. Signature has been bleeding red ink – to the tune of $20-million so far this year – while privately held Sunwing claims profitability despite offering what many observers have seen as unsustainably low pricing.  Sunwing has grown by leaps and bounds in the past five years, accelerating from $30-million in revenue to $660-million in 2008. Adding Signature’s revenues to the pot, Sunwing will likely see sales of about $1-billion this year. As Brent Jang reported in The Globe and Mail, the merger will likely put some heat on industry leader Transat, which has been critical in the past of Sunwing’s low-ball pricing. If Transat hoped for more rationality in the marketplace this year, it will likely be disappointed by comments in the Globe from Sunwing COO Stephen Hunter. “”The consumer will benefit with better pricing and improved product lines in the next six to 12 months,” he said.”People don’t want to stay at a dump. They want a nice hotel, but they don’t want to pay a lot. There will be deals.” Get out the sunscreen folks.

Get A RoomThe hotel industry’s largest research firm is predicting that rock-bottom room rates will continue through next year and into 2011. Even when demand picks up, prices aren’t expected to return to previous levels in a hurry, as consumers will have grown accustomed to bargain lodgings. PKF Hospitality Research told the Arizona Republic that a “buyer’s market” will continue into 2011. Meanwhile, at a hospitality conference in Phoenix, the president of a hotel company described the situation the industry finds itself in: “”We’re at the mercy of the consumer right now,” said Roger Bloss, president and CEO of Vantage Hospitality Group. “Today, value is trendy.”

WestJet WannabeeIn previous incarnations, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu earned a reputation as a cost-cutting, job-slashing hatchet man. As he attempts to resuscitate AC’s tattered public image and troubled corporate culture, Rovinescu is displaying his gentler side. As Gina Teel reported this week in the Calgary Herald, Rovinescu is taking a page from arch-rival WestJet’s playbook, attempting to ‘re-engage’ with stakeholders including staff, customers and the retail travel agents who still sell a significant percentage of Air Canada seats. Rovinescu wants to transform the company’s culture into an entrepreneurial one, based on four key tenets: ownership, leadership, flexibility and speed. So far, he has achieved at least temporary labour peace, steered the airline through a tough financial crisis and made peace with travel agents by reinstating commission payments on some fares. On the customer side, he has taken away some irritating fees and let pets back on the plane. The reward was record load factors in July and August – higher than those at WestJet. Analysts say he’s got a tough road ahead, but many are impressed with the progress to date. McGill University associate professor Karl Moore told the Herald: “They will never be a WestJet, but that’s all right because their offer to the market is not a West-Jet offer.”

Viva The Low-Priced All-Inclusive!
While tourism is down significantly in much of the Caribbean (with Jamaica a notable exception), Cuba is continuing to enjoy growth despite not having access to the U.S. market. Year-to-date tourist arrivals are up 3.1%, while rivals including Bermuda, Bahamas and Anguilla are down by double digits. Daily Finance reports that price is certainly one of the island’s attractions. “I think Cuba has always been more of a competitive destination in terms of price and value for the money,” the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Winfield Griffith told the publication. “There is a wide interest in Cuba among Canadians and Europeans.” There’s more to Cuba’s mystique than the almighty dollar though. As Kate Daley of Manitoba-based Cuba travel specialist Real Cuba told Daily Finance: “Cuban cities feel like cities in a foreign country — no McDonald’s, no huge supermarkets, but instead fresh produce markets, European and Chinese vehicles, and old buildings in elegant styles. Tourists feel like they are in a foreign country, one with a past.”

Billionaire Clown In SpaceNext time a teacher labels one of your kids as the class clown, don’t despair. Canadian Guy Laliberté has parlayed a big, red nose into a billion-dollar fortune, and he’s floating in space while his better-behaved classmates are checking the last-minute deals to Florida. As Global News reported this week, here’s one major prerequisite to being a space tourist in the early days of the business: money, and lots of it. Cirque du Soleil founder Laliberte reportedly paid $35-million for his chance to slip the surly bonds of Earth – and he’s flying economy on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft! Several others have preceded the clown prince on the journey, all with the word billionaire in their job description. One fellow, software mogul Charles Simonyi, enjoyed the trip so much he went twice, though it’s not clear whether he used points for the second journey. Sadly, none of the previous space tourists has posted reviews on TripAdvisor, so it’s hard to know whether bathroom amenities on the International Space Station are spa-quality or not, or what time you have to get up to prevent the Germans from grabbing all the space loungers.

Photo credit: VectorPro, thumb,,

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