Inventive approach secures bumper conference
A major business conference that typically would have been too big for Bermuda to handle is going ahead in November.
It will bring 800 delegates to the island, filling more than 4,800 room nights at three hotels, and have an estimated economic impact on the island of $2.3 million.
And it is happening as a result of inventive thinking by the Bermuda Tourism Authority, which collaborated with hoteliers and transport operators to find a way to make it possible, rather than risk seeing the event go elsewhere.
The Canadian Investment Institute Conference will take place from November 19 to 22 at the Fairmont Southampton.
Because of limited meeting space and hotel accommodation, a conference of this size is generally not held in Bermuda.
The conference organisers visited the island in 2015 and indicated they would like to hold this year’s event here. However, when the number of expected delegates grew larger than had originally been anticipated, the BTA set to work to find solutions to the challenge and ensure the conference did not need to relocate to another country.
“Over the 17 years I’ve worked in tourism for Bermuda this is the largest conference I’ve booked,” said Donna Douglas, the BTA’s business development manager for association groups.
“Usually we have to turn away from conferences of this size because we don’t have a facility big enough, but we were determined to find the right solutions to get this contract.”
She added: “The business development team knows group business like this between November and March is the key to putting money in people’s pockets year-round — hotels workers, small business owners, people driving taxis and minibuses.”
Fairmont Southampton, which will serve as the conference hotel, was instrumental in closing the original deal alongside Ms Douglas. While it has the required meeting space, it did not have the number of hotel rooms needed to house everyone as interest in a Bermuda conference grew among the group’s membership.
Delegates who could not be accommodated at the Southampton hotel were offered alternative options at Hamilton Princess and Elbow Beach Resort, but that meant they would require transportation to and from the conference location.
To meet this challenge, the BTA worked with Bermudian-owned businesses Flood Transport and Island Tour Centre to arrange daily ground shuttles from Elbow Beach and daily water ferries from the Hamilton Princess.
Tim Flood, president of Flood Transport, said: “It’s always helpful to my business to have big groups, but it’s an added plus in November because that’s when the season tends to wind down a bit.
“Over the last eight to ten years, this kind of business in November is very rare — a lot of people across the island should benefit.”
His company has six vehicles in its fleet, two are minibuses. In order to handle the passenger loads, Mr Flood will partner with other local drivers to make up the difference.
For Bermuda, the expected economic boost of the conference will be significant. The BTA noted that high-volume business during the shoulder season is especially valuable because it keeps tourism workers employed year-round.
Group hotel room bookings island-wide in November are ahead 47 per cent from where they were a year ago, thanks largely to the Canadian group. That amounts to 3,244 additional room nights compared to last November.
Planning for the conference began two years ago after the BTA and Fairmont Southampton co-hosted a site visit by the Canadian group’s management company.
Commenting on the arrangements, Stacy Van Alstyne, of the Canadian-based International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, which hosts the Canadian Investment Institute Conference, said: “The Bermuda Tourism Authority has been extremely helpful in ensuring our needs of hosting an effective educational conference are met. BTA was instrumental in getting different partners together in creating solutions for transportation and housing.
“They have a high level of dedication to making this a success. Their team asked the right questions, did their homework, and came up with creative solutions. They are very service-oriented, working over and above from what we normally expect from a tourism authority.”
The conference is seen as an example of how the BTA can sell the whole island as a meetings destination, instead of a single conference hotel.
Victoria Isley, BTA’s chief sales and marketing officer, said: “It is essential to improve group travel in order to improve overall performance and employment for Bermuda.
“We expect the group room nights this November to double what was on the books in November 2015. We’ve got a long way to go, but that is fantastic progress in two years. It’s a testament to hard work and signals that our strategy to drive group business to the island in the shoulder season is working.”
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