Island needs a ‘game changer’ - hotelier
Fairmont boss Norman Mastalir says “a game changer” is desperately needed to turn around Bermuda’s struggling tourism industry before it is too late.
As the hotel veteran prepares to leave the island after 13 years, he says one of his last wishes would be for Bermuda to “find the strength to take things in the right direction.”
Mr Mastalir, who is managing director of Bermuda’s two Fairmont hotels, says Bermuda cannot continue to plod along as it always has as some hotels only operate at 20 percent occupancy during the winter months.
He wants to see a “non weather dependent activity” to boost hotel numbers in the five months of the year that “everything comes to a standstill.”
Mr Mastalir suggests legalising gambling, promoting medical tourism, increasing Bermuda’s reputation for business meetings or making the island an International Arbitration Centre.
Mr Mastalir, who is being transferred to another Fairmont property in Canada, said: “We need a game changer.
“We are at this point and we need to change. We don’t need to be caught up in discussing what our adverts are going to look like or what colour the shorts should be on our logo; it’s a much bigger picture than that.
“It’s about creative thinking, putting the Island first and moving the industry forward. Staying as we are is not an option.
“We have to create things to do that are not weather dependent or growing is not going to be an option.”
Mr Mastalir said without “a unique selling point” to attract people to Bermuda in the winter, tourists would simply continue to head to destinations with better weather.
He said hotels needed to be operating at the 50-70 percent occupancy levels in the winter but were currently struggling to remain viable with 20-40 percent levels.
Mr Mastalir said he personally didn’t like gambling adding: “it does nothing for me.” However he said he had never hidden the fact that he was a staunch supporter of introducing gambling to Bermuda.
Mr Mastalir said increasing Bermuda’s reputation as a destination for business meetings would be a huge help as most company trips to the Island were currently incentive based. He said Bermuda profiting from medical tourism and becoming an International Arbitration Centre were also options.
Mr Mastalir believes Government and industry insiders “know what it is going to take” but he says “without a crystal ball” he cannot say if and when changes will happen.
He said: “For five months of the year, we don’t have reliant weather and we are competing with those places that do.
“Everyone should be working towards helping to make a difference. We have certainly all changed the types of discussions we are having.
“But the question remains will we have the strength to take things in the right direction? I really hope so as Bermuda has so many wonderful things going for it.”
Mr Mastalir said encouraging more young people to join the hotel industry was also key to securing tourism’s future as “people on vacation in Bermuda liked to be served by Bermudians.”
He said his one regret was leaving Bermuda at a time when this “long-awaited change was starting to take place”.
Mr Mastalir said: “It is no secret that the industry has been struggling with attracting young people.
“They have previously been attracted to more glamorous and higher paid jobs, but with the change in economy there are fewer jobs in the other areas.
“We are really starting to see people who want to be here rather than just treating it as a job with a pay cheque.
“These are young people who enjoy interacting with guests and going out of their way to exceed their expectations.
“It’s been starting to happen since the beginning of the year and we hope it will just be the start of things to come.”
Mr Mastalir said the hotel’s office, concierge, bell desk, human resources and accounts department were “just about 100 percent Bermudian.” Fairmont also currently has 24 Bermudians in a leadership development programme.
However, he still said they were struggling to attract young people into the food and beverage with only about five Bermudians out of about 130 staff.
Mr Mastalir said all the Island’s hotels had suffered “a financial meltdown”.
He said since the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Fabian, it had been “one crisis after another.”
He said they had particularly suffered “massive losses” over the last couple of years, however he remains optimistic that “good things were coming” with the slow revival of the economy.
Mr Mastalir said one of the greatest challenges was that people expected better services for more competitive prices.
He said: “We’re now in an era where people love to talk about what a great deal they got and how much money they saved. Everyone is looking for that deal that is better than the last deal they got.
“It means we have to deliver better services, especially keeping up with the latest technology. People want Wi-Fi as they want to be connected when they’re on the beach. They want large flat screen TVs as they don’t expect to go to a hotel and have a smaller TV then their living room.”
Mr Mastalir said he “didn’t need to make a big decision” to go into the hotel industry as he simply followed in the footsteps of his father who was a chef.
Prior to joining Fairmont in 1998, he was the general manager at the Prince Edward Hotel in Charlottetown and the Red Oak Inn in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Mr Mastalir said working in hotels was not a job, but rather a lifestyle, where “you really never have any idea about what is going to happen.”
Mr Mastalir said both Fairmont hotels had “come such a long way” with regards to their physical appearance and service standards. He said he was proud of all the staff and was “confident the hotels would continue to grow.”
Mr Mastalir said it had also been important to him to play an active role in the community and give back as much as he could.
He is chairman of the Bermuda Alliance for Tourism Marketing Committee; a member of the American Hotel & Lodging Association Resort Committee; president elect of the SKAL Club of Bermuda and a member of the Minister of Tourism’s Air Services Committee.
He is also past president of the Hotel Employers of Bermuda; past chairman of the Bermuda Hotel Association; past Bermuda Tourism board member and a Commadeur, Chef d’Hotel, of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.
Mr Mastalir said he “enjoyed every minute” of his 13 years in Bermuda with wife Alice and children; Sarah, 22, and Jason, 20, who went to Warwick Academy.
He said: “Bermuda has been a wonderful experience. My children have grown up here, as far as they’re concerned it’s home.
“It’s going to be a bittersweet move for all of us, but we always knew Bermuda couldn’t be forever.”
Mr Mastalir, who is Canadian, said he “wasn’t necessarily looking for a move” but he was asked to transfer to The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort.
He will stay in Bermuda until replacements are found for himself and also Jonathan Crellin, who leaves as general manager at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess this week.
However, Mr Mastalir said he would continue to follow what was going on in Bermuda “with great interest” and he would regularly return for visits.
He said: “I’ve put so much time and effort into Bermuda; I’m not going to just walk away.”