There’s been a whole lot of evolution and revolution in Canada’s travel industry over the past year. Here’s a reflection on some of the highlights:
TOUR & CRUISE
- U BY UNIWORLD set sail for the first time this past fall with an exclusive guest list. Announced in December 2016, this new concept is set to begin welcoming guests as of spring 2018. Open to travellers from ages 21 to 45, this groundbreaking brand from Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is opening the world of river cruising to a brand-new clientele, with unique itineraries, design and onboard experiences.
- Revealed in March 2017, the new Celebrity Edge is taking ocean cruising to a new level, with innovations such as its ship-climbing magic carpet platform and the Edge Stateroom with Infinite Veranda (which has been designed such that there is 23 per cent more square footage and 10 per cent larger bathrooms than Celebrity’s Solstice Class). Numerous other stateroom and gastronomic innovations are found throughout.
- In October, WestJet unveiled its first Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, one of 50 scheduled for delivery in the next four years. WestJet is the first Canadian airline to receive the aircraft, which was designed to optimize efficiency, reliability and the passenger experience.
- Speaking of WestJet, 2017 also marks the year the airline introduced Swoop, a new low-cost carrier set to launch mid-2018 servicing domestic routes. Not to be outdone in the ULCC space, Canadian start-ups Jetlines and Enerjet also hoping to take flight in the new year, while Air Canada Rouge is expected to compete on some routes as well. Not to be outdone, international low-cost carriers are also eying Canada, such as Scandinavian-based Primera Air, which will launch new year-round direct flights between Toronto and Paris, London Stansted and Birmingham, UK, starting in spring 2018.
- Back in March, Qatar launched what it is calling “a revolutionary new ‘first in Business Class’ experience with its new Qsuites. These feature the industry’s first-ever double bed available in Business Class, with privacy panels that stow away, allowing passengers in adjoining seats to create their own private room. Each seat is crafted with thoughtful and luxurious details, for an ultra-upscale experience in the sky.
- Air France is first at the gate to launch an airline dedicated to the millennial market. Joon is described as a “lifestyle brand and a state of mind” and not to be mistaken for a low-cost airline, as it offers the original products and services that reflect those of Air France. Medium-haul flights began operating in the fall, long-haul flights to follow in summer 2018.
- At its annual conference this past May, TL Network (formerly Vacation.com) officially launched the new Vacation brand as a lead-generation opportunity for its members. With a customer-centric, content-focused approach, the idea of the re-focused web platform is to drive consumer engagement through content, nurturing that relationship and acquiring information from prospects via progressive profiling. From that point, the organization hopes to drive sales conversions by connecting leads with TL Network agencies. This “Perpetual Demand Generation” (PDG) is still in its beta-testing stages with U.S. member agencies, though is expected to see a full-fledged roll-out on both sides of the border in 2018.
- CAA South Central Ontario is taking the old and making it new again with its redesigned storefront concepts. It began in 2015 with the Burlington location, while the Peterborough store opened with a facelift this past January (with others in between). Offering a “homey” feel, these new locations have a den, living room and dining room to serve different clients, as well as different technologies to engage with guests.
- Montreal-based Luxury Retreats was acquired by Airbnb back in February 2017, in a move that saw the consolidation of two major players in the home-sharing space. A luxury vacation rental company offering more than 4,000 homes in 100 destinations around the world, Luxury Retreat’s product bank was seen to complement Airbnb’s existing portfolio. Luxury Retreats continues to operate as a stand-alone entity, though over time, its listings are being highlighted and integrated into the Airbnb community.
- As the sharing economy continues to challenge traditional models, Wyndham Hotel Group acquired Love Home Swap, a London-based startup that, like Airbnb, allows travellers to book stays in other people’s homes, at the same time letting them list their own properties to be booked by others. This follows suit of Accor Hotels, which paid $170 million in 2016 for OneFineStay, an Airbnb-esque outfit that operates exclusively with high-end properties.
- Intercontinental Hotels Group revealed plans in June to launch a new, high-quality midscale brand. The goal is to target more than 14 million guests in the U.S. midscale market – a segment it says is “vastly underserved” and estimated to be worth $20 billion in annual industry revenues. The name, avid™ hotels, was just announced in December and the price point is projected to be about $10 to $15 less than its Holiday Inn Express brand. The first property is expected to open in 2019.
- The ever-popular “capsule” concept, a cheap accommodation alternative for business travellers originally seen in Japan and throughout Asia, has been slowly spreading to other parts of the world in recent years, from New York to Europe, and now, Canada. The Pangea Pod Hotel in Whistler, B.C., announced this past June and opening in 2018, will offer 88 sleeping pods and common spaces designed for “the discerning solo traveller seeking a boutique hotel feel.”
- Offering direct and immediate access to more than 70,000 commissionable tours and attractions, TripAdvisor launched the Travel Agent Program in October 2017, which allows agents to book directly through its Viator distribution platform, right down to exclusive Skip the Line products. There is no fee to take part and agents who register receive competitive commission rates.
- In November, Air Canada announced that it would be the first Canadian airline to use virtual reality technology to simulate the experience of flying on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner for travel agents and potential customers. Through a fully immersive, interactive experience, users are invited to explore all three cabins of service offered onboard the aircraft, including “enjoying a virtual International Business Class meal complete with wine in an Executive Pod.”
- The Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority in Canada is another organization at the forefront of the virtual reality trend, using it to train both travel counsellors and tour operator staff through the sight and sound experience. The 360-degree videos, showcasing various experiences throughout the destination, can even be viewed through social media and on mobile phones. “Pretty soon everyone will be doing this,” said developer Kevin Cyr of Wing Whale Media.