Consumers still hungry for leisure travel, despite inflation, rate hikes: Transat CEO
September 15, 2023 By Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Canadians are still gung-ho for travel to sun-splashed resorts and European getaways, in spite of higher inflation and interest rates, says Transat AT Inc. chief executive Annick Guerard.
“We’re pretty much confident about the fact that the Canadian airline sector continues to benefit from pent-up demand,” Guerard told investors on a conference call to discuss the company’s latest financial results.
Transat reported Thursday its highest net income ever for a third quarter and turned a profit for the first time since 2019, prompting a brighter financial forecast for the year.
Healthy demand for leisure travel boosted revenue per passenger by 29 per cent compared with four years earlier, an indication of fare hikes on tickets to Europe. The price tag on round-trip flights by Canadian airlines to Europe this fall rose 22 per cent from 2019 levels, according to online travel agency Hopper Inc.
To meet the sustained demand, Transat plans to expand capacity by nearly a quarter next year, increasing its fleet to about 40 planes. The push comes as other Canadian carriers also ramp up capacity, particularly on sun-bound routes, setting the stage for heightened competition.
“With what we see today, despite inflation, we’re pretty much comfortable that that’s the right capacity to deploy to make sure that we position ourselves well in the market,” Guerard said.
“Early bookings are ahead of last year which, combined with firm pricing, bode well for the start of the new fiscal year.”
As a result, Transat raised its margin target on adjusted earnings for 2023 to between 7.5 and eight per cent from a previous outlook of 5.5 to seven per cent, its second guidance bump this year.
The Montreal-based tour package company also said revenue in the three months ended July 31 rose nearly seven per cent above 2019 levels, despite capacity sitting 14 per cent below — another hint of higher prices and packed planes.
“In other parts of the world folks just buy the cheapest ticket and bugger off for a week and then worry about finding a decent place to stay,” said Robert Kokonis, president of consulting firm AirTrav Inc.
“In Canada — to quote a former CEO of Swoop — Canadians are hooked to package vacations like a drug.”
Nonetheless, Transat closed the sale of a piece of land in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to resort company Finest Resorts last month as it positions itself as an airline above all else, rather than simply a tour package provider.
Transat owns “virtually no” hotel units, though it still sells a range of vacation packages and maintains a 50 per cent stake in a joint venture at one Mexican resort, chief financial officer Patrick Bui said in a phone interview.
The company used the $50-million proceeds from the land deal to reduce its debt, which stands at $2 billion, or $1.5 billion in net debt, following a financially devastating pandemic period.
On Thursday, Transat reported net income of $57.3 million in its third quarter — its highest quarterly profit since late 2017 — versus a loss of $106.5 million a year earlier
Revenue rose 47 per cent to $746.3 million from $508.3 in the same three months last year.
On an adjusted basis, Transat said it earned $1.10 per share in its most recent quarter, up from an adjusted loss of $3.20 per share the year before.
The average analyst estimate had been for an adjusted loss of nine cents per share, according to estimates compiled by financial markets data firm Refinitiv.
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