Have you been able to take a vacation lately? How about a quick break, or even a business trip? It isn’t always easy to get away from it all, especially for younger people with families or for businesses watching their budget. Travel across this country can be expensive and complicated; a spontaneous break isn’t always an option, but there is change on the horizon.
Do-it-yourself vacations have been available online for a long time now, but they haven’t really made booking flights and hotels easier, or that much cheaper. Websites like Travelocity or Airbnb may have put the travel industry at our fingertips but finding the right flights and accommodations can take a lot of time, and Googling for a cheap flight will take you through hundreds of paid links. Sorting through them all is time consuming and frustrating. Then you have to decide if you want to stay in a stranger’s Airbnb bed, or splurge and rent out an entire condo for your family or team. Choices haven’t made DIY travel any easier! The thing that is missing from booking travel online is personalized service from someone who gets where you are coming from.
“People now understand that there are no better deals online,” explains Hidar Elmais of Edmonton’s award-winning local travel agency, Travel Gurus. “Everyone has the same prices, and the competition rules mean that no one is allowed to sell the flight for more or less money.”
Putting the human service back into traveling is what booking with a travel agent can do. Without one, it’s guesswork. Have you booked to the right hotels? Is the transportation reliable? It’s hard to know if you haven’t been there before. The Travel Gurus have been there. They have firsthand knowledge about what is going on in the destination and what might go wrong.
“Things happen all the time. It’s not just flight problems. There are hotel mix-ups to weather delays, to bigger things like political uprisings or attacks,” says Elmais. “We get calls sometimes at 4 AM from people in their resort and in trouble. If they need out, we can get them out of the hotel, or out of the country, and get them back home. As you can see, there are a lot of reasons why a good travel agent, one who works directly with you and knows the location, is a great asset.”
One of the things that holds people back from travel is the cost of airfare, but Elmais predicts that that domestic flights in Canada will dramatically drop within the next year or two, as more low-cost airlines come into play.
Flair Airlines, an ultra-low cost carrier (ULLC) currently flies to seven Canadian cities, and plans to add more locations in the coming months.
“We started out with the understanding that in the Canadian marketplace, airfare was too expensive,” says Julie Rempel, communications and marketing representative at Flair Airlines. “When it’s cheaper to fly from here to somewhere in Europe than it is to travel from Halifax to Vancouver, well, that’s a shame, because it means that many Canadians are missing out on everything that Canada has to offer.”
Rempel says the goal of Flair Airlines has always been to connect people to each other. “We want to connect families, to connect workplaces, to connect Canada.”
For a long time, those living in Europe and Asia were able to find flights on their continent for costs so low, Canadians could only gasp in envied surprise. Flair Airlines studied what made ULCCs work overseas, and what made them less cost effective in Canada. Flair decided that despite the greater distances between Canadian cities, and lower population density, the model would still be feasible here.
“Edmonton to Toronto is considered a long-haul flight,” said Rempel, “so the ability to offer cost-per-mile is more difficult, but after two years in the business, we have honed in on what makes this model work.”
However, this new way of traveling hasn’t always gone smoothly as tourists adjust to new expectations and the airlines refine how meet their costs. “We have some scars on our back, some lessons learned,” she laughs, “but a smile doesn’t cost anything, and we know that it is important that the booking and boarding experience be a pleasant one for the customer. We continue to make improvements as we go.”
Flair Airlines regularly offers flights from Edmonton to Vancouver for only $69. Although people jump on that deal, they need to know that that price only gives them a seat on the airplane and a seatbelt. Everything else costs more. Having to pay for extras may not be something people are used to, but it is what is going to bring about that above-mentioned change on the horizon.
“It’s not about what you ‘don’t’ get,” says Rempel. “It’s about choice and only paying for the services that you choose to use. If you are thinking that you don’t get a free meal, you don’t get coffee, you don’t get priority boarding, you don’t get a free baggage allowance, well, yes, these things cost extra as they do on other airlines, but the difference here is that you don’t pay for it unless you want it.”
Traveling with ULCCs can be inexpensive because not all the extras are necessary. For example, as travel becomes more frequent for weekends, business trips, or trips home to see parents and grandparents, perhaps not as much luggage is necessary. Or, is an airplane meal really required for a quick jaunt between two neighbouring cities?
“A lot of young people are the untraveled generation,” notes Rempel. “They haven’t been on a plane before. They are first time travelers and young families who, with ULCCs will now be able to take their children to visit grandparents or other family more frequently.”
However, it’s not just young families who are struggling to travel, or to whom ULCCs will be the most appealing. Jared VanderMeer, director of operations at Magnolias Consulting, says that budget airlines are also welcomed by businesses looking to expand across Canada.
“While access to things like video conferencing makes it easier to connect with potential clients or business opportunities across the country, there is significant value in face-to-face meetings, which are not always economically feasible with the high cost of travel. Budget airlines will create a healthy balance between digital and face-to-face transactions, allowing business owners to now consider travel as an option – especially for start-ups with small budgets.”
One thing is certain, if people aren’t spending as much to get to their destination, they can spend a lot more at their destination, and that is good for everyone involved. Connecting Canada with affordable, personalized, low-cost travel used to be a grand dream, but with companies like Travel Gurus and the rise of ULCCs, every day that dream becomes more of a reality.
If you’ve been longing for a getaway, take another look at your options. Where you want to travel for work or for pleasure may be closer than you think.