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Stephen Hunter, CEO of Sunwing Travel, stands beside one of the company's aircraft in the Sunwing hangar at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on Feb. 8, 2021.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Sunwing Travel Group has struck a resort marketing deal with Marriott International Inc., a move that gives it exposure to the hotel giant’s much larger customer base.

Toronto-based Sunwing said 19 of its 44 resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, including Planet Hollywood and Royalton hotels, will join Marriott’s Autograph Collection brand in the first quarter of 2021.

Financial terms were not released, and Sunwing retains ownership of the hotels. Marriott will receive an undisclosed commission for bookings made through its website, while Sunwing gains access to a broader range of clients and markets, in addition to the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, which has 145 million members.

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Sunwing’s business includes the resorts, tour operators and Sunwing Airlines. It is 51-per-cent owned by the Hunter family, with Germany’s TUI Group owning the other 49 per cent.

Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott operates more than 7,500 hotels under 30 brands around the world.

The two companies announced the agreement amid a prolonged collapse in demand for travel due to the pandemic. Sunwing suspended its normal airline operations until April 30 after the Canadian government asked all domestic carriers to cease flying to sun destinations. It had grounded its flights from March to November last year.

Stephen Hunter, Sunwing’s chief executive officer, said he has been talking with Marriott for four years, but the pandemic underlined the need to reach an agreement. “Once the pandemic hit everybody in the travel sector, it doesn’t matter whether it’s hotels or tour operators [or] airlines, everyone kind of let their guard down a little bit and started talking to competitors more,” he said by phone.

He said the hotels were profitable again after reopening in November and December, but business has “dried up” amid the new travel restrictions.

The agreement doubles Marriott’s all-inclusive resorts portfolio and adds two destinations, St. Lucia and Antigua, while offering more choices to its loyalty program members, said Tony Capuano, Marriott’s president of global development, in a statement.

Sunwing Airlines provides about 30 per cent of the clients to the company’s hotels. Mr. Hunter said access to Marriott’s loyalty program deepens the potential pool of customers in the United States.

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“If you’re a business guy and you fly to New York every week, building up points, where are you going to use those points? You’re most likely to use those points on your own personal vacations somewhere down south,” Mr. Hunter said.

Sunwing employed about 2,700 people before the pandemic and operated 12 leased Boeing 737-800s and four leased Boeing 737 Max jets.

It recently tapped a federal government loan program for $50-million and has been approved for as much as $375-million to help it weather the pandemic. Sunwing and other airlines are awaiting the announcement of a sector-specific aid program in the coming days or weeks.

The company recently fielded a takeover offer for the airline from an unnamed party, Mr. Hunter said Friday.

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