Last updated: 04:11 PM ET, Mon February 15 2016

Bermuda Tourism Execs Banking on Expanded 2016 Air Options

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | February 15, 2016

Bermuda Tourism Execs Banking on Expanded 2016 Air Options

PHOTO: Bermuda officials are hoping a 18 percent air service increase will expand the country’s visitor arrivals. (Photo courtesy Bermuda Tourism Authority).

While Bermuda’s cruise ship arrivals posted solid growth in 2015, the country’s tourism stakeholders are hoping increased airlift in 2016 will help reverse last year’s 1.2 percent air arrivals decrease.

Last week American Airlines launched expanded service to Bermuda with a second flight from New York’s JFK International Airport. The new flight is part of an 18 percent year-over-year increase in airline seats dedicated to Bermuda in the first quarter of 2016, said tourism officials.

“Our ongoing dialogues with airline partners are showing results,” said Shawn Crockwell, Bermuda’s tourism development and transport minister. In addition to American Airlines’ expanded flight schedule, “We’ve seen other airlines fly more often this winter than they did last winter,” Crockwell said.

He added, “This is good news for residents and business people who rely on air travel, but also presents an opportunity to the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA) to attract more visitors.”

Bermuda recorded 139,820 air arrivals identified as “vacation” visitors in 2015, a 1.2 percent decline compared with the 141,504 vacation arrivals charted in 2014. In all, the country hosted 219,814 air arrivals in 2015 in categories including “business,” “friends and relatives” and “other.” The 215 total represents a 2.0 percent decline compared with the 224,380 air arrivals recorded in 2014.

Crockwell said airline seats dedicated to Bermuda will increase by six percent in the second quarter, representing an additional 24,222 airline seats compared with 2015 and marking the country’s second consecutive quarter of increased airline capacity.

Conversely, airlift declined in every quarter of 2015, with a total decline for the year of 9.2 percent, representing 51,090 fewer airline seats, Crockwell said. BTA officials say they are focused on reversing the country’s 10-year trend of sliding air arrivals.

“Airline seats to Bermuda are down 30 percent in the past decade,” said Bill Hanbury, BTA’s CEO. “That’s why we’re working hard to grow demand and assist our partners in government who negotiate with airlines.”

Bermuda’s laggard 2015 air arrivals were due in large part to Canada’s “troubled economy” and the country’s weakened currency, said Hanbury, which made Bermuda vacations more expensive Canadian travelers. Bermuda’s Canadian air arrivals declined 17 percent in 2015, while visitors from the U.S. increased 0.5 percent and U.K. visitors grew by nine percent.

“The headwinds we experienced with the Canadian economy, the shrinking airlift and a two percent decrease in the number of hotel rooms available were too difficult to simultaneously overcome on the air vacationer side of the equation,” Hanbury said.

“However, we generated growth from two of our three top countries of origin which is a good building block going forward,” he added, “especially as our partners in government have secured more airlift for 2016.”

Bermuda’s struggling airline business contrasts with the territory’s buoyant cruise ship traffic. Cruise ship visitors which increased 4.2 percent in 2015, totaling 370,756 arrivals compared with the 355,880 cruise arrivals recorded in 2014.

Bermuda’s cruise passenger growth is expected to continue in 2016, as the destination will welcome increased calls from smaller cruise vessels in Hamilton (with 17 calls scheduled compared with 15 in 2015) and St. George (with four calls slated, up from two in 2015). Heritage Wharf is Bermuda’s primary cruise ship port and hosts the industry’s largest vessels. BTA officials said cruise visitors are expected to grow by 10 percent in 2016.

Bermuda’s strong cruise business is also expected to boost the destination’s visitor spending numbers. Cruise vacationers spent an average of $130 per person in Bermuda in 2015, a 29 percent increase over the $101 average recorded in 2014.

BTA officials say this year’s small-ship cruise visitor increase will further boost cruise passenger spending, as small-ship vacationers generally spend more onshore compared with large-vessel vacationers.

Conversely, Bermuda air visitors spent an average of $1,177 per person in 2015, a six percent decrease from the $1,249 per person recorded in 2014. BTA officials said a 19 percent decline in accommodation spending was primarily responsible for the lessened economic impact among airline arrivals.  

Nevertheless spending across Bermuda’s wider tourism economy remains positive, said Hanbury, reflecting “marketing efforts to promote Bermuda as a destination for explorers” determined to experience the island beyond their hotels.

“Our product and experiences team has been consistent in its support of new events like Bermuda Heroes’ Weekend and new excursions like Kinezumi Water Sports that align with what our consumer research tells us visitors want,” said Hanbury.

In addition, Hanbury said Bermuda’s hosting of the 2017 America’s Cup sailing race will positively impact the country’s visitor arrivals. BTA’s partnership with the America’s Cup organizers “has provided marketing momentum going into 2016 with extensive media exposure and opportunities for marketing activations with Louis Vuitton, Moet, Red Bull and other sailing-affiliated lifestyle brands,” he said.

New sailing events including the M32 winter series and the Antigua-Bermuda Race will take place in Bermuda in 2016 and 2017, as sponsors of those events seek to capitalize on the America’s Cup 2017 ties to Bermuda.

“We believe this is ultimately the best formula for growing visitor spending across the tourism economy,” he said. “Visitors will spend more when they find experiences that match their desires.”

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