Battle on for tourist dollars

An aggressive promotion war has erupted between two Ontario tour operators selling vacation packages to England and Scotland.On Jan. 19, Sunquest Vacations, an independent tour operator based in Toronto, began offering an Alamo sub-compact rental car free for a week, mileage...

An aggressive promotion war has erupted between two Ontario tour operators selling vacation packages to England and Scotland.

On Jan. 19, Sunquest Vacations, an independent tour operator based in Toronto, began offering an Alamo sub-compact rental car free for a week, mileage included, to couples who book vacations by May 1.

Valid dates

The offer is valid only for trips starting between May 1 and Oct. 31.

Sunquest is advertising the deal in full-page ads in two major newspapers, the Saturday edition of The Toronto Star and the Sunday edition of The Toronto Sun.

According to Sunquest, the only cost vacationers would bear for rental would be $29.95 per person in administration fees and $16.95 in British taxes.

Nine days later, Regent Holidays of Oakville, Ont. announced a similar free rental offer in conjunction with Kenning Car Rental.

Incentive

Like Sunquest, Regent, which is a division of Quebec-based Groupe Transat, positioned the offer as an incentive for vacationers to book their flights early in the season.

Both firms offer the free rental car only on vacations departing from Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport.

On Feb. 20, Sunquest upped the ante by announcing it had dropped the administration fees, so vacationers need pay only the taxes.

Response

Within days, Regent responded by announcing it, too, had waived administration fees.

Clive Farmer, vice-president of product at Regent, says the cost of a week’s car rental in England is about $230, if it is booked on-site.

If the rental is pre-booked here in Canada, the cost drops to about $180.

Farmer says Regent’s cost is less than $180 because it is able to gain concessions from the rental agency.

Jill Wykes, Sunquest’s senior director of communications, says the promotion war between Sunquest and Regent is indicative of the direction in which vacation tour marketing has been headed in the last couple of years.

Wykes says tour operators, led by Sunquest, began offering value-added promotions in the early 1990s as a means of stimulating sales during the recession.

Sunquest’s first major promotion was a luggage give-away, held in 1990.

The next year, the company put together what is considered to be the largest tour promotion held in Canada, when it launched a cellular-phone giveaway in conjunction with Cantel.

Cellular phones

Wykes says more than 70,000 Sunquest vacationers have received certificates for cellular phones and celluar phone services since the program, which is still running, began.

Last fall, Sunquest ran a promotion with several Toronto-based clothing chains.

Under the program, vacation buyers received a $200 credit to be spent on regular-priced clothing at the participating stores.

Farmer says promotions have proven to be highly effective in driving sales, so he expects tour operators will continue to use them regularly.

Sweepstakes

He says value-added promotions can be costly, but adds ‘tour operators need to do something to differentiate themselves from the competition, and promotions are a way of doing that.’

‘We’re hoping it’s not something we have to do every season, but if that’s the way the market goes, we’re certainly going to be ready for it.’

Last month, Regent announced a new sweepstakes promotion to drive sales of its summer vacations to Europe.

Between Feb. 23 and the end of July, customers who book European tours with the firm will qualify for a series of draws giving away five Caribbean cruises for two.