|Stephen Hunter, COO of Sunwing Vacations - TRAVELHotNews personality of the year 2007|
|Stephen Hunter, COO, Sunwing Vacations|
Earlier in the year, TRAVELHotNews.com held the first annual Awards of Merit for the year 2007. At the Addison Show in Toronto, Stephen Hunter was awarded the Personality of the Year 2007 for TRAVELHotNews.
When asked about his success and his take on why he won the award, Hunter said, “I have ideas and I have things that I want to do, and I express those ideas well. I set out a clear path to follow, and put it on a timeframe. My employees now don’t ask me ‘when’, because the answer is usually ‘yesterday’.”
“I explain the idea and the action and put a purpose behind it. I’ve worked for people and it’s helpful to know why you have to do something, how it impacts the rest of the company and other departments.”
Working from a young age
He was born in Canada and grew up in the east part of Toronto, spending a year in Winnipeg along the way. In his early teens, he moved back to Toronto and started working his “first real job” at a hardware store, also working in a clothing store, a meat packaging company and “working for a long time running a Rapidlube, that kind of business. I did a lot of things.”
Hunter went to Ryerson University and received his degree in economics, but “my main focus and enjoyment is marketing. If I wasn’t in travel I would definitely be doing something in marketing. I love the creativity, setting out a plan and seeing it come to fruition; if it works, if it doesn’t work, learning from mistakes. I also like real estate too. But real estate and marketing kind of go hand in hand.”
A start in the travel industry
When asked how he got his start in the travel business, he says, “I always liked travel. I was always travelling, always meeting the people my father did business with in the 70s.”
In the 1980s, Stephen made his way to Adventure Tours, working in various departments. “As I went to school, I started working part time. Reservations, ticketing, the systems department – I got a feel for what I liked and didn’t like, and learned the way the business operated from a tour operator perspective.”
Way out West
In the 1990s, Hunter went to Vancouver, where he was the general manager of a small tour operator, Americana Tours, which ran charters from Vancouver and Victoria to Reno, Nevada.
At the time, Reno was the “big place in gambling. Mostly [our clients] were seniors who would go on the casino junket – they would go once a month for $299 or $399, gamble for a few days and then return.” But, eventually, the tour operator’s customers, who were advanced in age, began to pass away, leaving them with less of a market.
In 1999, Stephen recalls “an opportunity came up to purchase Red Seal Vacations, which was operating as an FIT, with car rentals and hotels; we had 16 staff, including me.”
A self-motivated man
Stephen’s drive comes from within. “I [began working in the travel industry] because I liked it. My father always said to everybody, ‘Do whatever you want to do, just make sure you’re the best at doing it.’ If you want to be the garbageman, be the best garbageman you can be.”
“That’s the only thing he asked. And nobody was ‘forced’ – even my brother wasn’t forced to work with us. My [two] sisters don’t work with us, and they’re successful – just do what you love,” he adds.
How does he describe his job position at the company? “Some people say I’m like the head cook and bottle washer. I do a little bit of everything but my main focus is to drive competition into new markets.”
As the co-owner and COO, Hunter says at times he has the ability to predict where the market is headed, and can implement changes to make sure the company is “on the right track”.
|Stephen Hunter and wife Joanne Hunter|
When asked about his work relationship with his father Colin, the president and CEO of Sunwing, Stephen answers, “We’re a close-knit family. I’ve always had a good relationship with my father. He and I are the same way. When we’re at work, it’s strictly business. And when we leave work, we leave work.”
“Every week, at least once a week, I still go to my mother’s house and have dinner on Sunday. You have to take one day of the week to make sure everybody gets together again. We all go on family holidays. There are always at least 20 of us getting together, and it grows more and more each year.”
Stephen and his wife Joanne have a six-year old daughter, and have another baby on the way, due in June. “I don’t know [whether it’s a boy or a girl] – my wife won’t tell me.” When asked if he has picked out names, he says they have picked out one name each for a boy or a girl. “[My wife] probably gave in on the one she knew it wasn’t. I kind of know what it is,” he quips.
Hot spot: Playa del Carmen
|Playa del Carmen, Mexico|
Travelling, of course, is another one of Hunter’s favourite pastimes. One of his favourite places is the Playa del Carmen in the Riviera Maya, Mexico.
He likes to “[walk] up and down 5th Avenue, with cafés, restaurants, and you get to mingle with different people from Mexico or other [international visitors or residents]. That’s enjoyable to me. You get the feeling you are being involved in the country and interacting with the people.”
Fast cars, hockey and 007
Stephen Hunter has always had a love of cars. “I used to race every weekend when I was younger. I rebuilt my first motor in my early teens, sold it and it blew up in two days,” he jokes.
“Cars have always been a great hobby of mine. Hockey is my love as far as sports is concerned. I’m a Toronto [Maple Leafs] guy, I can only bleed blue,” he adds.
As far as books go, he likes to read fiction books, such as Dean Koontz thrillers. When it comes to movies, Hunter has an extensive collection, but is a big James Bond fan. While the new 007, Daniel Craig, has grown on him, Hunter opines that “whenever someone says James Bond, you always get the image of Sean Connery. I don’t think anyone will ever be better than him.”
The future of the travel agent
When asking Hunter about what the new role of the travel agent is in today’s market, he says that he’ll always have the same answer – travel agents are needed and are important, “particularly in the leisure market, agents specialize in selling packages and people rely on agents heavily.”
|Stephen Hunter won Personality of the Year|
“Our brochures always say ‘call your local travel agent’. They help sell our product. Good agents can retain clients with service – which comes in many forms. Advice, speediness…as long as they can provide service for customers, there’s always a need.”
Travel agents have supported Sunwing from their start as a $5 million company, to one that is looking at revenue of half a billion dollars today. And it’s agents (and the industry as a whole) who give Stephen Hunter a lot of credit for the company’s success.
When reading the comments for the Awards of Merit 2007 under Hunter’s name, phrases like ‘approachable’, ‘innovative’, ‘friendly’, ‘reliable’, ‘professional’, ‘visionary’ and ‘humble’ crop up time and time again – Stephen Hunter has worked hard to earn the respect of the travel industry and is certainly deserving of the ‘Personality of the Year’ title.
TRAVELHotNews.com would like to thank Stephen Hunter for his time and cooperation for this profile.