Caribbean Insights: Bermuda's Long Road Ahead
Bermuda government and tourism stakeholders have launched a variety of measures in recent years to reverse the country’s declining tourist arrivals. Still, the country’s premier admitted recently the Ministry of Tourism and the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA) face a long road ahead as they seek to restore Bermuda’s prominence among travelers.
Bermuda hosted 54,473 air arrivals in the third quarter of 2015, an increase of less than one percent over the 54,305 arrivals recorded during the same period in 2014. The arrivals news wasn’t all bad, as Bermuda hosted 182,283 cruise ship visitors in the third quarter of 2015, a 7.3 percent increase over 2014. And Bermuda’s total arrivals (including air, cruise and yacht-based travelers) year-to-date totaled 236,945 visitors, a 5.6 percent increase over 2013.
Nevertheless the country’s year-to-date air arrivals are down just under one percent, totaling 116,700 arrivals this year versus 117,639 in 2014. Also, Bermuda recorded 224,246 air arrivals last year, a 5.1 percent decline from 2013. The 2014 downturn was part of a decade-long decline during which Bermuda has fallen far behind the arrivals pace set by other warm-weather destinations.
“The three quarters completed of 2015 have been difficult,” said Michel Dunkley, Bermuda’s premier, in an address at a one-day tourism summit hosted earlier this month by BTA. “The results to date have not been what we wanted.”
The premier acknowledged that Bermuda’s declining arrivals have coincided with long-term problems ranging from a lack of investment in new hotels and resorts to the government’s failure to establish Bermuda as an attractive option for younger travelers compared with other warm-weather Caribbean destinations.
“It is now settled history that we fell short of the mark,” said Dunkley. “We ignored trends, changes in socio-economic demographics and we did not pay attention to the advent of new competitors who improved what we invented.”
He added, “In considering the results, it is important to recognize that our challenges did not simply happen overnight and thus we will not deal with these challenges in a night.”
The downturn has not gone unnoticed by some Bermuda politicians. “Bermuda’s position as a tourism destination has been marginalized in the global market by an underfunded tourism marketing budget,” said Zane DeSilva, a Bermuda parliament member, in a local interview earlier this month.
DeSilva said BTA and the Ministry of Tourism have failed to market Bermuda as a top vacation destination. “If you don’t advertise to the people of your country, to the world, that you have a product for sale, how are you going to sell it?” he asked. “I watch every week on CNN, ABC, NBC, the Golf Channel, all our competitors. I watch their ads; come to St. Lucia, come to Bahamas, come to Jamaica. And here we are in Bermuda – you never see it,” DeSilva said.
“We have to invest in tourism and the current budget simply isn’t competitive when we look at the millions being spent by our more successful competitors,” he added.
Dunkley said achieving a tourism turnaround “is still a work in progress. This is not because of inaction or lack of effort. This work is not easy and I recognize that the BTA team is putting their all into the mandate to grow Bermuda's tourism.”
Restoring Bermuda’s tourism growth will require more than increased marketing expenditures, said Dunkley. “Is the answer to be found in increased budgets for marketing and advertising? Is the answer to be found in a market saturation strategy so that Bermuda is on every channel, every day, everywhere?” he asked. “This would help, but in reality the answer is not as simple as that.”
BTA and the Ministry of Tourism must first re-establish Bermuda as a prized travel destination among a new class of consumers, said Dunkley. “Bermuda must be relevant to them and their lifestyles, so that coming to Bermuda is what fits with who they are. We cannot achieve the revitalization of tourism by reminding today's travelers why their parents and grandparents fell in love with Bermuda. We must make them fall in love with Bermuda for themselves.”
He said events like the 2017 America’s Cup yacht race, which will be held in Bermuda, is among several events BTA is hoping will reverse the country’s declining arrivals. Bermuda’s tourism ministry is also engaged in an initiative to establish resort casinos in the territory.
“We have the assets to be successful,” said Dunkley. “Our culture, our beaches, our historical landmarks, our golf and spa, our activities and experiences, the many events in our calendar, the America's Cup in 2017 and of course our people,” he said.
“We have all that is required to renew our product and provide experiences that resonate with today's traveler. I believe that the efforts of this government thus far are taking root and will yield a positive outcome.”
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