The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) is speaking out against Sunwing’s handling of a recent wave of cancellations in Saskatchewan and elsewhere.
On Dec. 29, 2022, Sunwing issued a cancellation notice to travel agencies and independent travel advisors, announcing an immediate suspension of all Saskatchewan flights up to (and including) Feb. 3, 2023.
Since then, additional cancellations in other regions have occurred.
For travel advisors in Saskatchewan – and agents with clients in the Prairie Province – the move has left a big hole in their business.
PAX was first to report on three Saskatchewan-based travel advisors who are starting the New Year with disappointed clients, mounting paperwork and thousands of dollars in recalled commission due to Sunwing’s last-minute pullout.
The tour operator, which promised full refunds for the cancelled flights, is not protecting commissions for the bookings it disrupted, putting agents at a major disadvantage during one of the busiest months of the year.
ACTA, on Thursday, expressed its disapproval of Sunwing’s approach.
“When a decision to cancel a travel program is made, travel agent commission should be part of the decision-making process, and commission must be protected,” the association said in a release.
Sunwing’s move came at the height of holiday travel delays, with many customers already in-destination then in need of repatriation.
“Travel agents are incurring significant customer service obligations, and we are concerned that despite the tremendous amount of work completed by travel agents, commission might not be protected,” ACTA said.
ACTA says it has received “overwhelming feedback” from travel agencies and independent travel agents across Canada who have been impacted by Sunwing’s direction.
The association noted that it is in “continuous contact with Sunwing’s leadership team.”
“ACTA will continue steadfast advocacy with all stakeholders to ensure fairness for travel agencies and independent travel agents,” it said.
Sunwing, earlier this month, apologized to travel advisors who are impacted by the cancellations in Saskatchewan.
In a statement to PAX, the company said its decision “was not made lightly,” saying the move was due to several factors that prevented it from delivering service that customers expect.
“…it is our sincere hope that, with the continued support of our esteemed agency community, we can regain the trust of our Saskatchewan customers and return them to destination in the months ahead,” Sunwing said.
In a public statement issued Jan. 5, Stephen Hunter, CEO of Sunwing Travel Group and Len Corrado, president of Sunwing Airlines, jointly apologized for “letting our customers down” this past holiday season after a winter storm crippled its operations.
That apology, however, did not mention Canadian travel advisors who, too, were impacted by the shutdown as they worked through the holidays to find solutions for their stranded clients.
“An apology is not enough”
The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) has taken a stronger, more direct tone with Sunwing.
The grassroots group, in a statement to PAX on Jan. 5, said “an apology is not enough.”
“To say ACITA is disappointed with these most recent cancellations is an understatement,” ACITA said. “Independent advisors have been working so hard to rebound after two long years of cancellations, and to now have to cancel and process refunds yet again, all while working without compensation, is unacceptable.”
The advocacy group said it will continue to push governments for legislation that will “protect us for the work we do.”
“These suppliers have been using us as their free labour workforce for too long,” ACITA told PAX. “What this has shown, though, is that the presence of our association, and the work we continue to do is so important, and is more relevant than ever.”
“We will not give up until there are important changes for independent advisors, and really, all travel advisors in Canada.”
Following PAX’s coverage of the issue, many travel advisors have reached out to express their disappointment in Sunwing’s performance – both in Saskatchewan and in other provinces.
Pat Probert of The Bob Family Travel team said Sunwing has “not stepped up to the plate for the hundreds and probably thousands of travel advisors who had their Christmas plans ruined” after flights were abruptly cancelled and, in some cases, clients were left stranded in destinations for several days.
“Sunwing’s actions are just not acceptable. They need to not only make a wrong a right for clients – first and foremost – but also to the loyal agents they had. And I do say had,” Probert said.
Many customers who were impacted by the chaos took to social media to express their rage, blasting Sunwing (and other airlines) for the lack of communication they received and for misplacing luggage.
Probert said he spent “multiple days” trying to help his Sunwing clients, who he says were asked to go to airports between 5 and 7 a.m., two days in a row, only to sit there all day then be asked to return for a third day.
Probert said he lost out on commissions and spent many hours trying to fix things from a Seabourn cruise ship in Antarctica, where he spent the holidays.
Calls to do better
Another travel advisor, Jamie Angus-Milton, president of Uniglobe Carefree Travel Group in Saskatoon, posted an open letter on Jan. 7 addressed to Stephen Hunter, calling on the Sunwing CEO to commit to “doing better by the travel trade and regaining our trust.”
“That is going to be just as difficult of an obstacle as regaining your clients trust,” Angus-Milton wrote in the letter, which can be viewed on LinkedIn.
“If your own staff had made these bookings, you would need to pay them to manage the bookings and the cancellations, but somehow, it’s expected that we will offer this service to Sunwing complimentary,” she wrote.
“In addition to our services being complimentary to Sunwing, it is costing agency owners additional funds in staff wages, overtime and gifts of appreciation to our staff, for giving up their irreplaceable family time to assist our mutual customers.”
“Where you lack appreciation for this service, we value it in spades.”
Angus-Milton also took aim at Hunter’s “condescending” and “extremely irritating” apology, which did not acknowledge Canadian travel advisors, who have been “working so very hard, for so very little, to service your bookings.”
“I want to make it loud and clear that the Travel Trade expects and demands retroactive commission protection on cancelled bookings and a retroactive letter of apology for the disruption your decisions caused members of the travel trade,” Angus-Milton wrote.