Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Convenient destinations are a numbers game

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In the end it's all about the numbers.

As travellers, the only thing we wish to do is come back from a vacation with positive memories of an enjoyable holiday experience.

From the suppliers' viewpoints, it is strictly about bums in seats and bodies in beds.

Just a couple of weeks ago the Jamaica Tourist Board proudly announced Canadian tourism to the country increased by five per cent during the 2013-14 sun destination season over the previous year.

These are numbers they should be proud of, and no doubt Manitobans contributed to this increase.

Not so long ago Air Canada Vacations was the only non-stop option for visitors to travel to this unique and beautiful country. As the competitors realized those ACV flights were growing in popularity, they started to go head to head for the business.

Both Westjet Vacations and Sunwing Holidays now offer non-stop flights to Jamaica and lo and behold, all three tour operators seem to be doing very well with the destination.

Similarly, flights have increased from other areas to Jamaica as well, giving the tourist board much to celebrate.

On the other hand, many were frustrated when Transat Holidays, who bravely took the leap into flying non-stop to Panama, discontinued the service from Winnipeg. This too was about numbers, as the company concluded the early support was not sufficient, and it would likely be more profitable to move the planes to serve other destinations from other cities.

Travel related companies also use numbers to celebrate their success internally while promoting their achievements externally.

Aeroplan, which issued its first points in 1984, has now proved its merit by reminding us they have been in the loyalty-rewards business for three decades in Canada. From a standing start they grew to over 4.8 million members today.

Initiated in 1984 by Air Canada as a program geared to its business traveller base, it now offers its points through grocery chains, gasoline station and retail outlets of all kinds.

After a couple of spinoffs Aeroplan became Groupe Aeroplan Inc., a global dividend-paying company, and their numbers have been impressive.

Notwithstanding complaints about lack of air inventory, officials brag over 1.5 million flights were issued in 2013, not counting nearly another million rewards in products and other services.

A couple of weeks ago in this column I wrote about how the expansion of Westjet's Encore division was making it an ever stronger national competitor to Air Canada.

Launched just over a year ago, they just created a major media blitz welcoming their one-millionth guest. From three aircraft when they began flying, they now have 13 planes going to 18 destinations with no plans to slow their growth.

The numbers are telling them expansion will not only add to their overall bottom line, but will enhance the positive consumer perception of the airline as well.

More recently I have received emails bemoaning the fact that Mazatlan is not offered on a non-stop basis any more by any tour operator.

After a Canadian was injured in the city by an errant bullet targeting a drug seller of some kind, Canadians and travelers from other countries began to avoid the destination.

Even cruise lines removed the popular port from its itinerary.

Today, Mazatlan has bounced as measures to help ensure the safety of visitors seem to be working. Some of the cruise lines are visiting the port again. But so far the projected numbers do not seem to be indicating it is time to reinstitute the service from Winnipeg.

Having visited Mazatlan a number of times, I too hope the demand will soon bring back flights again.

Every single month I receive the figures relating to load factors of competing airlines. These numbers are vitally important to the airlines for planning, in addition to noting the degree of success of the carriers.

For example, in June Air Canada reported a record system-load factor of 85.7 per cent, an increase of 0.7 points on a system-wide capacity increase of 9.8 per cent. This is a very good sign for the airline.

When an airline increases capacity and still shows a record-load factor, that portends the future is promising and tells the airline more expansion may be warranted.

Like Westjet, the Air Canada Rouge division was also launched last year and has helped contribute to the Air Canada successes significantly.

At the same time, Westjet Airlines said their June load factor was 77.4 per cent, an increase of 0.6 percentage points year over year. Since these numbers did not look as good as those of their Air Canada rival, Westjet chose to highlight instead its second-quarter load factor of 79.6 per cent while flying 4.8 million guests, with a year over year increase of 6.2 per cent.

They especially wanted investors and the public to know on June 27, they set a single-day flying record as they carried more than 63,000 guests.

Numbers can be used in various ways to build up the image of a tour operator or airline. But the numbers they use for public consumption are only a part of what is including in the analyses of all available figures to grind out decisions which will affect where and how we travel.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 E3

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