By Dana Niland
The Bermuda tourism industry is off to a strong start for the year, with leisure air arrivals and leisure air visitor spending both up in the first quarter over last year’s, which proved part of a record-breaking 2017.
The first three months of 2018 mark the ninth consecutive quarter that Bermuda’s tourism industry has grown in vacation air arrivals and spending, according to the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
Stayover air arrivals were up 21.3 percent in the first quarter, compared to the same period in 2017, while leisure tourism spending was up 25 percent to $32.7 million.
“The steady comeback of Bermuda’s tourism industry, which began statistically in January of 2016, is now continuing into a third consecutive year,” said Bermuda Tourism Authority Chief Executive Kevin Dallas. “After a decades-long malaise, this is very encouraging news for our tourism industry’s workers, business owners and investors.”
“With reduced hotel inventory and cancelled flights there was no shortage of challenges to overcome in the first quarter, but our industry has proven resilient once again – double-digit percent increases in leisure air arrivals and spending are further steps in a long growth trajectory that is built on solid marketing fundamentals put in place by the Bermuda Tourism Authority,” he continued.
Six local properties had a portion – if not their full hotel inventory – offline for renovations during the first quarter.
This represented a 12 percent reduction in the country’s hotel inventory, making the rooms unavailable to visitors.
Additionally, 16 flights were cancelled between January 1 and March 31, due to weather challengers in the U.S. feeder markets.
Those factors did not slow Bermuda’s momentum of growth.
“Overall the first quarter is a low volume quarter for our tourism industry when compared to the rest of the year so it’s too early to call it an indicator of the full year’s performance,” Dallas explained. “That said, as a standalone quarter, it’s gratifying to see growth in the last three winters because it means Bermuda is putting a dent in the seasonality problem that has been an industry weak spot for decades.”
“We need to keep at it, there’s a long way to go to make the industry profitable in the first part of the year,” he added.
Hotel occupancy grew two percent in the first quarter of 2018 when compared to the first quarter of 2017.
Last year, long-stay America’s Cup-related business had a major positive impact on Bermuda’s hotels in the first quarter.
A year later, America’s Cup business was replaced with leisure visitors who stayed fewer days and paid higher rates.
Hotel sector revenue per available room and average daily rate were both higher in the first quarter – six and 4.5 percent respectively.
Meantime, vacation rentals were off slightly, falling seven percent in share of visitors, but up in the number of overall visitors.
A 15 percent increase in air capacity was a significant factor in first quarter performance.
This is especially true out of Boston, where leisure air arrivals grew 73 percent in the quarter thanks largely to a 117 percent increase in available seats from Logan International Airport.
JetBlue Airways increased its seasonal service from Boston to year-round service, which increased capacity greatly and proved to be popular with travellers.
“We see the same positive impact from Boston we saw out of New York when the air capacity increased at JFK,” said Dallas. “When supply and choice increase, demand goes up too and the net result is more travellers to Bermuda.”
“We’ve worked very closely with JetBlue on a more robust marketing partnership to fill newly added airline seats and it is clearly paying dividends for the airline and Bermuda,” he added.