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Tuesday,  March 5, 2024 4:38 AM 

“An apology is not enough”: ACITA calls for industry change amid Sunwing cancellations


“An apology is not enough”: ACITA calls for industry change amid Sunwing cancellations
ACITA co-founders Nancy Wilson (left) and Brenda Slater. (File photos)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) has strong words for Sunwing following reports of travel advisors losing thousands in commission after the tour operator suspended flights in Saskatchewan for more than a month.

In a statement issued Thursday (Jan. 5), the grassroots group called Sunwing’s last-minute pullout at Regina and Saskatoon airports “unacceptable.”

“We cannot believe we are here once again. Something must change in our industry,” said the volunteer-run association, which formed in June of 2020.

“To say ACITA is disappointed with these most recent cancellations is an understatement. 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.”

(Sunwing)

Earlier this week, PAX reported on three Saskatchewan-based travel advisors who are dealing with disappointed clients, mounting paperwork and thousands of dollars in recalled commission due to Sunwing’s sudden cancellations.

The tour operator, which has promised full refunds for the cancelled flights, is not protecting commissions for the bookings it disrupted, putting agents at a major loss just as one of the busiest months of the year for travel was about to begin.

READ MORE: “Enough is enough”: Agents blast Sunwing for suspending SK flights, recalling commissions

Sunwing issued a statement to PAX on Wednesday (Jan. 4), apologizing to travel advisors who are impacted by the cancellations in Saskatchewan, which take effect up to (and including) Feb. 3, 2023.

Sunwing 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,” the tour operator said.

“Clear failures in execution”

In a public statement issued yesterday (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.

In the days leading up to, and after, Christmas Day, customers of Sunwing (and other airlines) were reportedly left stranded at airports in Canada and in destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean after their flights were cancelled or delayed.

Passengers impacted by the disruptions took to social media to express their displeasure, blasting Sunwing (and other airlines) for the lack of communication they received and for misplacing luggage.

READ MORE: Sunwing apologizes to travel advisors for Sask. cancellations

In their apology, Hunter and Corrado noted “clear failures in execution” in how Sunwing responded to weather-related delays, as well as the aftermath of weather disruptions, which limited the company’s ability to reposition aircraft and crew to other airports to help alleviate the backlog in flights.

Sunwing will be reducing some capacity in January to ensure that it can execute higher standards of service, the statement says.

Hunter and Corrado also recognized Sunwing’s obligations under Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations, promising full compliance with the rules.

“An apology is not enough”

Though sent as a “trade announcement” to media outlets, yesterday public apology made no mention of Canadian travel advisors who, too, were impacted by the shutdown as they worked through the holidays to find solutions for their stranded clients.

ACITA says 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. An apology is not enough,” ACITA stated. “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.”

The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) has notified its members of the Sunwing situation in Saskatchewan.

And while ACTA has not yet issued a media statement on the issue, it has addressed the case on social media.

“We are deeply concerned about the sudden cancellation of service by Sunwing to Saskatchewan until Feb. 3, all while indicating that commission will not be protected,” reads a tweet ACTA posted on Jan 5.  “ACTA is in direct contact with Sunwing executives to bring fairness and equity to hard-working travel agents.”


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