What’s Next for Tourism in Bermuda?
By Alexander Britell
After several years of strong growth, buoyed by the landmark hosting of the America’s Cup in Bermuda, the Atlantic island encountered challenges at the beginning of 2020, due in large part to decreased air capacity. And then then the pandemic hit, leading to the closure of the island’s borders until the recent reopening of Bermuda for tourism in July.
So what’s next for the hotel and tourism market in Bermuda? To learn more, Caribbean Journal Invest talked to Glenn Jones, Interim CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
How would you describe the state of tourism pre-pandemic in Bermuda?
We had some formidable challenges at the start of the year. Decreased air capacity lift to the island, for example, had us in a position where year-over-year air arrival growth was a very difficult aspiration—especially coming off 2019 when we achieved the second-best total for leisure air arrivals since 2006. On a more positive note, global awareness of Bermuda as a tourism destination was on the rise thanks to high-profile partnerships with top-tier media brands and multi-year sporting events, including the PGA TOUR Bermuda Championship, and a USTA/US Open partnership. Bermuda is a haven for all types of travellers, including multi-gen families, Black travellers, MICE, and sports enthusiasts, thus contributing to the industry’s sustained tourism growth.
Bermuda seems to have been seeing an uptick in hotel development in recent years. Can you talk about that?
As tourism arrivals have been on the rise, so has the need for hotel developments to meet the demand of these new visitors. The past few years saw new openings and options, such as The Loren at Pink Beach, as well as enhancements and updates to existing properties, including the Rosedon Hotel Bermuda and Rosewood Bermuda, plus the sale and upcoming renovation of the Fairmont Southampton. Several completely new developments are in the pipeline, with options as varied as the travellers who frequent our shores, from new luxury hotels and residences including Hilton’s first property in Bermuda, the Bermudiana Beach Resort, Azura Bermuda, and the new St. Regis Hotel (April 2021).
How has the hotel pipeline been impacted by COVID? What hotels are coming on stream in the next year or two?
COVID-19 led to a temporary closure of most of our hotels as Bermuda enacted strict stay-at-home orders to protect its citizens and stem the spread of the disease. However, along with the July 1 resumption of commercial air service to the island, a number of hotels are also ramping up and announcing their re-opening plans. The luxurious St. Regis Hotel in the historic town of St. George is still on track for an April 2021 opening, while the recently opened Azura Bermuda continues to finalise all the property amenities and the Bermudiana Beach Resort condos are in their first phase of sales with their full opening forthcoming.
Why is Bermuda a favorable climate for hotel investors?
Location. Location. Location. Bermuda has always been attractive to hotel investors, thanks to easy accessibility from the East Coast—high income earners who travel often and live nearby elevate Bermuda’s attractiveness to hotel investors. We also have a strong, stable infrastructure out here.
Additionally, there has consistently been a high volume of MICE travel and group travel rooted in our premium sports tourism as Bermuda has played host to the America’s Cup, World Rugby Classic, PGA TOUR, and ITU World Triathlon Series.
The Bermuda Tourism Authority works closely with the industry to bring attention to the island and the sophistication that differentiates Bermuda from other destinations: earlier this year, representatives of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) took part in multi-day site visits, staying at the Hamilton Princess Hotel & Beach Club, meeting local destination management companies, and touring locations such as Commissioner’s House at Dockyard, Verdmont House in Smith’s, and other sites that offer compelling group meeting space. As a member of ALHI’s Global Luxury Alliance, BTA leverages ALHI’s global sales officers through its New York-based sales team to help attract more lucrative group sales and meeting, incentives, conference and exhibitions (MICE) tourism business to the island.
Are there any incentives for developers/investors in the tourism industry in Bermuda?
As the ongoing revival of tourism, rooted in the Tourism Investment Act, is a main driver of the Bermudian economy, the BTA drives further development in this industry. One way Bermuda looks to support our hotel stakeholders is through providing a trained and talented workforce across the hospitality industry. The island created several initiatives, including an online registration system that notifies interested Bermudians of job openings, specific training, and learning and development opportunities if they need to refresh or learn new skills. The government of Bermuda is dedicated to working with the international business community to make doing business in Bermuda easy and efficient and is also willing to pass legislation of mutual benefit to both the island’s residents and potential investors.
Bermuda has also been making a push to court the superyacht sector—why is that and what is the plan?
Bermuda has always been known as a destination for its excellent sailing and boating activities, and the island’s successful hosting of the world’s largest sailing regatta, the 35th America’s Cup in 2017, attracted about 100 superyachts during the multiweek event. Their spending amounted to an estimated all-yacht total of $14 million, according to a post-AC35 economic report.
In 2017, the BTA commissioned research that underscored the economic benefits of hosting superyachts, showing even the smallest of those vessels spend big while in-port. As a result, the island passed legislation earlier this year providing yacht owners and captains with new incentives around duty-free travel, and ease of acquiring cruising and charter permits. Bermuda has much to offer high-net-worth travellers, thanks to its pleasant cruising itinerary, good marina facilities, privacy, maritime services, and cultural sights. Now, with the spread of COVID-19, we’re seeing additional interest from superyacht brokers in Bermuda as a close, clean, safe location in which owners and their families, and charter guests, can luxuriously isolate and social-distance while enjoying the best Bermuda has to offer, including dedicated concierge services for superyachts. Of course, the island also offers real estate and global financial services that are attractive to this traveler segment.
Can you talk about Bermuda’s new airport terminal project?
The new terminal at Bermuda’s L.F. Wade International airport is a highly anticipated modernisation of our airport. As one of the largest infrastructure investments in Bermuda’s history, the new two-storey building will feature state-of-the-art design and technology focused on exceeding travellers’ expectations when it comes to safe, efficient, and enjoyable air travel. In addition, security screening and immigration will be streamlined and modernised for more efficient check-ins and arrivals. Construction is almost complete, and officials are beginning to finalise a new re-opening date later this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the finishing touches. The island is excited to eventually welcome back visitors with the new terminal, equipped with improved concessions, restaurants and duty-free offerings, as well as striking ocean-front views.
What’s your outlook for the tourism sector going forward?
Our outlook is a cautiously optimistic one. Bermuda re-opened its borders on July 1 and we expect high interest from travellers looking to escape to our island’s beautiful beaches and wide open natural spaces. Bermuda has always been known as a clean and safe destination and those qualities are extremely attractive to travellers during this pandemic. In addition, the island’s close proximity to the East Coast (it’s only a 90-minute flight from NYC and under three hours from Atlanta) and gradual return of non-stops flights are also factors in the gradual return of our tourism economy. The island and its stakeholders are committed to bolstering the local economy while also creating new protocols to keep residents and travellers safe as they slowly start returning. As we look ahead to the return of events that visitors love, starting with the PGA TOUR this fall, we expect the momentum in the tourism sector to keep building. COVID-19 has caused hardship for many in our industry, as it has around the world—but if there’s a silver lining, it is the new spirit of innovation emerging: a more frictionless, contactless ease of doing things, fresh ideas, new entrepreneurs, a stronger synergy between tourism and health & wellness. These are Bermuda’s strong suits and are great advantages in this emerging landscape. We feel Bermuda is exactly the kind of place people have been pining for these past few months—and we look forward to warmly welcoming them back when they’re ready to travel again.