‘Bermuda can't dwell on its past heyday' - Crellin
Bermuda needs to leave its tourism heyday memories in the past to be able to move into the future, according to hotelier Jon Crellin.
Mr Crellin, who steps down as general manager of the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel this week, has spoken out about the urgent need to “take things to the next level.”
His comments come in the wake of managing director of Bermuda's two Fairmont hotels Norman Mastalir who said “a game changer” was desperately needed to turn around Bermuda's struggling tourism industry before it is too late.
Although Mr Crellin says recent tourism discussions have been “very encouraging,” he said decision-makers were “caught up” with the wrong issues.
Mr Crellin, who is moving back to his native Boston, says our rival destinations have to be clearly identified and “the past has to be kept in the past.”
His parting message to Bermuda would be for tourism leaders to “put the needs of the industry before themselves.”
Mr Crellin said: “Why do we always hear about Bermuda's heyday? It's been and gone and things have moved on.
“That was about 25 or 30 years ago, this is now and things are different, very different.
“Back then we weren't surrounded by big-name resorts, we didn't have any competition.
“Tourists back then used to come to Bermuda for two weeks, now they squeeze in a quick three or four-day break.
“We really need to put things back in context rather than dwelling on the past.”
Mr Crellin said it “made no sense whatsoever” that Bermuda was constantly compared to the Caribbean islands.
He said we had to look at things through the eyes of the average visitor to Bermuda, who Mr Crellin described as “an upscale couple living in the suburbs of Boston.”
With that in mind he said the Island's competing destinations should be seen as The Hamptons, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and New England.
Mr Crellin said: “We're nothing like the Caribbean, our seasons are completely different.
“We have more differences than similarities with the Caribbean and the constant comparisons are very distracting.
“We need to do our research to see who our competition really is. It doesn't matter what we think, it's what tourists think.”
Mr Crellin said Bermuda needed to take “a huge leap of faith” when it came to tourism. He said a convention centre or gambling could be solutions but only if research proved it was what tourists wanted.
He said: “Something needs to change to take Bermuda to the next level. We need to be put back on the map.
“Bermuda needs to do something sooner rather than later.”
Mr Crellin said the hotel had felt the effects of the economic downturn despite a “very aggressive marketing campaign.”
He said they were expecting a “really strong” July and August due to advance bookings, but May had been a “real disappointment.” He said whereas the hotel used to be a sell-out every night, rooms were now only filled two to four nights a week.
He said hoteliers needed to see a 50-60 percent occupancy level from November to March and they were “far from it.”
Mr Crellin said they “managed through” the winter months by encouraging expatriates to return home and not filling vacant positions until the summer.
However, he believes “things are picking up” as they have introduced new incentives specifically aimed at hotel guests aged 35 to 65, such as weekend catamaran cruises, water aerobics and the nightly sizzling summer food and beverage programme. The hotel has also recently opened the Windjammer Art Gallery.
He said: “I really think we've hit the bottom and are now on the way up, but it's going to be a slow climb. It's very challenging and there are no quick hits out of this.”
Mr Crellin said during his five years in Bermuda the hotel had become “more focused” on providing guests with what they wanted.
About $20 million has been spent on hotel renovations, including updating rooms, Fairmont Gold renovations and transforming the Bay Wing into Bermudiana House.
Mr Crellin said he was proud the hotel had been named as one of the Island's top employers by Bottomline Magazine. He said: “If we take care of our colleagues, they take care of our guests.”
Mr Crellin praised the hotel's staff for their hard work, dedication and excellent relationships with regular customers. He said there was only a 10 percent staff turnover with 77 percent of the 350 employees being Bermudian.
He said he was “immensely proud” to be part of the hotel's 125th anniversary celebrations and said earning the AAA Four Diamond Rating was the hotel's “crowning seal of approval.”
Mr Crellin's last day at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel is Thursday and he will leave the Island on July 10.
He said it felt “kind of surreal” to be leaving Bermuda as it had become home-from-home for him, wife Seana and children; Charlotte, six, and Benjamin, four.
Mr Crellin said: “It's been a great almost five years in Bermuda, I'm going to miss it a lot.
“So many good things have happened here, I have mixed feelings about leaving, but I have another great career opportunity and the time has come to move on.”
Mr Crellin has been with the Fairmont group for 15 years and before coming to Bermuda was general manager at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston.
On July 25 he will become managing director and general manager of the independently owned five-star Boston Harbor Hotel.
Mr Crellin says his new hotel has “many similarities” to the Fairmont Hamilton Princess as it's right on the harbour and attracts mainly business travellers.
He also expects to welcome quite a few Bermudians through the hotel doors and promises to continue to wear his pink Bermuda shorts.
Mr Crellin, who was the deputy chairman of the Bermuda Tourism Board, was named Hotelier of the Year for 2009 by the Bermuda Hotel Association.