“The relationship between RIU and Sunwing goes beyond business. It resembles an extended family,” said Deana Murphy, vice president sales and business development for Sunwing Vacations. “The commitment to working collaboratively across departments has been a key factor in the longevity and success of this partnership.”
Sunwing and RIU Hotels & Resorts teamed up yet again on Wednesday (Nov. 29) to host their annual festive VIP lunch event for partners, travel advisors, and trade media at The Arlington Estate in Vaughan, ON.
At the event, Murphy and Hugo Aguilera de Alba, director of partner marketing and business development, USA and Canada at RIU Hotels and Resorts, emphasized the success of partnership, highlighting over a decade of collaboration.
The Elite Club premium experience
In an interview with PAX, Aguilera de Alba shared that if one is familiar with RIU, “you know that we offer a product for everybody.”
“We have RIU Palace Hotel, we have a RIU Hotel, which is our classic line. We also have adults-only hotels. We have the splash waterparks, for families and adults. And now we are doing an enhanced premium experience for our customers,” Aguilera de Alba said.
According to Aguilera de Alba, big strides were made in 2023 with the reopening of the Hotel Riu Palace Macao, Punta Cana in September after extensive renovations.
"For me, it was like one of these shocking moments, because I knew the property before. And as soon as I stepped in, I was like, 'Wow, where am I?'” describing the transformations.
This adults-only property marked the introduction of the Elite Club concept to the Canadian market, setting a new standard for luxury.
The Elite Club, a room category introduced in late 2022, offers guests a premium experience with exclusive benefits, amenities, and services.
This can include everything from premium room locations to access to Elite Club lounges, premium drinks at select bars; designated beach or pool areas, food and beverage enhancements, in-room in-room aromatherapy, and more.
As part of the Elite Club, Aguilera de Alba said that RIU Palace Jamaica in Montego Bay and RIU Palace Baja California in Los Cabos, Mexico will join the premium programme by December 15, 2023.
On December 3, RIU is also set to open its third Elite Club experience at the renovated adults-only Riu Palace Pacifico in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico where it will maintain its 24-hour all-inclusive service.
Looking ahead to 2024
RIU Palace Aquarelle is slated to open on May 4, 2024, and will feature Splash Water World and RIULand, the Kids' club. This newly-constructed hotel is the company's seventh hotel in Jamaica and first in the Trelawny area. The property will be located 25 minutes from the airport.
Aguilera de Alba says this family-friendly 13-story hotel with swim-up suites on the ground through third floors will deliver outstanding views and follow RIU's high-quality standards.
Riu Palace Bavaro in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic closes for renovation on May 1, 2024, reopening on September 1, 2024. Splash Water World, RIU Party, and RIULand experiences will be available here.
Riu Plaza Chicago Hotel is expected to open in 2024 and will feature a sky bar on the hotel’s 26th floor.
Destination weddings on the rise
Murphy said Sunwing, in general, is seeing a "big increase" in destination weddings, especially with RIU.
She said the synergy of the RIU Partner Club, along with Sunwing's Star Loyalty Program, enhances the booking experience for travel agents, making it more appealing, said Murphy.
Starting in January, Aguilera de Alba said there's a notable increase in wedding bookings, considering the Christmas season often is a time for engagements.
The timing aligns perfectly with RIU’s new wedding collections, launched approximately 12 to 15 months ago, including the reopening of the Riu Palace in Jamaica, a location he believes will be a “huge success” for weddings.
“We have outstanding numbers from weddings. But we would like to see another record year in 2024," said Aguilera de Alba.
Strong agent support
Aguilera de Alba noted that RIU has a new and expanded team dedicated to elevating the experience for agents.
"It's crucial for [agents] to know that we are here to provide unwavering support," he said.
The four dedicated BDMs assigned to Canada are Andres Olivares (Western Canada), Leslie Manilla, (Ontario & Manitoba), Paola Roldan, (Quebec & Atlantic Canada), and a virtual BDM, Karina Olivera, who ensures agents receive timely support in English and French.
RIU's BDMs aim to keep agents informed about new products and programs through interactive and accessible online platforms.
This includes the RIU Partner Club, the hotel chain’s loyalty and rewards programme for travel agents.
As for Sunwing, Murphy recognized the move towards self-serve options on the agent portal, especially with the increasing number of agents working from home and the associated challenges of reaching agents in various locations.
Despite the current lack of chat support on the agent portal, Murphy detailed other engagement strategies, including the Sunwing agent Facebook group and a “robust webinar program.”
Sunwing, with RIU, plans to organize additional webinars to share information about new products and programs.
A worry-free experience
"Winter has just started off in a roaring wave," shared Murphy, amusingly announcing to attendees that she had one PSA to share.
With literal snowfall outside during the lunch event, she acknowledged winter's arrival and its potential impact on clients' travel motivations.
She said Sunwing had a “fabulous” Black Friday and Cyber Monday and there are still deals available out there for last-minute travellers.
In anticipation of a busy season, a dedicated support team is available to help clients anytime, said Murphy.
“Give yourself a break so that you don't get those 10 p.m. calls from a client in destination. We can help them immediately,” she said.
Murphy recommended agents inform clients about SunwingCares.ca, assuring quick support and ensuring a smoother experience for both agents and clients during the upcoming busy travel period.