WestJet and Sunwing announced today that they have reached a definitive agreement under which the WestJet Group of companies will acquire Sunwing Vacations and Sunwing Airlines.
The transaction will bring together two distinctly Canadian travel and tourism success stories to deliver new travel options and greater value for travellers in the rapidly expanding leisure and work-from-anywhere travel markets. The combination will enable both companies to protect and create jobs and rebuild strength in the Canadian travel industry at a critical time.
Following the close of the transaction, a new tour operating business unit will be created under the WestJet Group, to include both Sunwing Vacations and WestJet Vacations Inc., and will be led by Sunwing CEO Stephen Hunter. Sunwing’s current shareholders will become equity holders in the WestJet Group.
Canadian travellers will have access to more competitive airfares and affordable vacation packages through the combined strength of the companies. The tour operator business will be headquartered in Toronto, with a Quebec head office in Laval and the business will continue to market the Sunwing brand alongside WestJet Vacations. The WestJet Group will maintain its head office in Calgary.
The WestJet Group of companies will expand to include Sunwing Airlines. This will add increased capacity, dedicating otherwise seasonal aircraft to operate year-round in Canada, instead of Sunwing supplementing seasonal demand with imported aircraft, which translates into more jobs for Canadians. This acquisition will improve the WestJet Group’s ability to offer more affordable fares by immediately expanding its low-cost footprint in Canada.
“This is an exciting moment for WestJet, Sunwing and Canada’s travel industry,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, CEO of WestJet. “We are bringing together two highly complementary businesses with powerhouse brands to strengthen our successful leisure business and deliver greater value to our guests.”
“This combination brings together Canada’s two original low-cost carriers and positions us to accelerate growth in value-oriented travel, already the fastest growing segment of the airline market. It creates new opportunities for our people, our operational partners and supports the recovery from a global pandemic that has been particularly challenging for the Canadian travel and tourism industry including local airports and businesses we work closely with,” added von Hoensbroech.
Stephen Hunter, CEO of Sunwing, said, “We have a very promising future as part of The WestJet Group, which is one of the only airlines in the world that has not issued debt or equity during the pandemic, or accepted sector-specific government aid. The combination of their strong balance sheet and growth trajectory with Sunwing’s unparalleled expertise in creating differentiated vacation packages will ensure the success of the new vacation division. My team and I are excited for the future, and we look forward to offering even more vacation destinations to Canadians at affordable prices.”
WestJet Group and Sunwing intend to build on their collective history of constructive labour relations and will respect all arrangements with union and employee associations, including those in place and those currently under negotiation.
As a result of the resiliency created by the transaction, Sunwing expects to no longer require the pandemic-related Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) Sunwing obtained from the Canadian government in early 2021, which will be fully repaid upon closing of the transaction.
The combination, which remains subject to receipt of regulatory approvals, is anticipated to close late 2022.
Barclays is acting as lead financial advisor to WestJet, with additional advisory provided by Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, Canaccord Genuity Corp and RBC Capital Markets, LLC. Goodmans LLP is acting as legal advisor to WestJet.
Featured image credited to Sunwing