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ASK JOURNEYS: WestJet takes pass on currency surcharge

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It is the sights and history of the major countries like Switzerland that are still attracting worldwide visitors.

RON PRADINUK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

It is the sights and history of the major countries like Switzerland that are still attracting worldwide visitors. Photo Store

There were some disgruntled travellers following the currency surcharge most of the Canadian tour operators recently added to their vacation packages.

At $35 per person, this added $140 to a holiday for a family of four who were considering escaping our cold winter.

Even with the occasional complaint, it did not hold back sunspot bookings in the least.

As I predicted a couple of weeks ago, flights are selling out and there are likely to be few, if any, of the last-minute sell-offs that seemed to materialize in previous years.

The bigger questions are how far the loonie will fall against the U.S. dollar for next season and how will the tour operators hedge their bets on this margin as they release pricing for next season?

Up to the time of this writing, WestJet Vacations had resisted the urge to chase the rest of the tour operators and have forged their own path to loyalty.

"We are committed to the transparency of our advertised prices," Tim Croyle, vice-president and general manager of WestJet Vacations, said in a statement. "We believe the base price should reflect the true price of the package, and that the only taxes and fees charged should be those that are passed on to government and regulatory bodies, not used to offset cost increases. We want our guests and our travel agent partners to book with confidence with WestJet Vacations, knowing that we are striving to provide the best possible pricing available."

This truly is a noble statement in a year when they easily could have picked up significant revenues by instituting the $35 add-on.

Question: Before our first trip to Mexico, we were warned about the gauntlet of "time share" sales people we would meet in the airport.

As we walked through the airport looking for transportation provided by our airline to our hotel, a man asked for the name of our hotel. He directed us to another man who, he said, would arrange transportation.

It took us awhile to realize this was a time-share guy.

Our real transportation was waiting for us just outside the door with a man holding a sign bearing the name of our airline.

Does the fact the airport authority allows the time-share people to use space on airport property suggest the airport is in cahoots with them?

Does this also suggest the airline is part of the scheme?

We were told in this one destination over 300 people who are not employed by the time-share companies are paid for each lead they supply and they depend upon this extra cash to feed their families.

Answer: I can't say for sure if the airport authority is in cahoots with them but time-share aggression is a fact of life in most Mexican as well as other Caribbean destinations.

I do not believe the Canadian charter airlines are connected with them, but it is also true many make extra cash by finding referrals for the sales people of these time shares.

Many of the major resort properties have time-share salespeople and offices on site.

As I have stated in this column in the past, these salespeople are among the best in the world. Many trusting couples have found themselves over their heads after agreeing to a purchase. Even with Mexican law allowing a short rethinking period, these sales professionals are known to convince people to change their minds about changing their minds over one conversation.

I know many people who have been very happy with their time-share purchases. I know others who still regret the decision they made.

This is a highly personal decision and families should discuss in advance whether they want to even listen to the pitch. In the presentation you should be warned they can, and mostly likely will, successfully overcome any and all objections you can come up with to the degree that many are soon following like sheep to the dotted line.

Also recognize the short presentation promised will not be that at all.

Question: Has the popularity of European vacations subsided with the increased marketing being done by Asian countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, or even by South American efforts to attract people to Brazil and Argentina as example?

I ask this question because we are actually considering Europe for summer but understand it can be a very crowded tourist environment there.

Answer: The popularity of Europe is as strong as ever.

In a study released by the World Economic Forum measuring something called the Tourism Competitiveness Index, five of the top 10 countries were European.

They were Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Europe is still most visited during the summer. Other than for families taking children while school is out, I have never fully understood this pattern.

During these months the destinations are not only crowded but very hot and often humid.

The shoulder-season months are cooler, not as crowded and less expensive.

As a side note, Canada scored eighth on the survey, making it one of the top 10 tourist destinations in the world, again following last year's top 10 placing.

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 at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 E2

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