On-notice BTA ready to learn more’
The Bermuda Tourism Authority was “ready to learn more details” of government intentions on its future, the body’s chief executive said yesterday.
Kevin Dallas was speaking after the Budget Statement was delivered in the House of Assembly by Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, where he said the Government would “restructure the BTA to focus more directly on its sales and marketing role”.
Mr Dallas said: “We stand ready to learn more details of the Government’s intentions for the BTA related to the finance minister’s Budget Statement today.
“The BTA team is proud of the collaborative success we’ve achieved with our community as a public-private authority and our record of achievement for Bermuda’s tourism industry.
“That includes record-breaking numbers for total vacationers for three years in a row, a 26 per cent increase in leisure air arrivals since our inception in 2014, and the second-highest number of leisure air arrivals in 2019 since 2006.”
Mr Dallas added: “The BTA has achieved a balanced budget and an unqualified audit from the Auditor-General for each year of our existence, and has set the bar for transparency.
“Our stakeholders are engaged, more Bermudian entrepreneurs are receiving the support to succeed, visitor services and experiences have been enhanced, and investment in Bermuda’s hotels and tourism product is on the rise.
“We have made clear the short-term challenges, including airlift and inventory, but we remain positive our island’s tourism industry is moving strategically forward.”
Mr Dickinson said the 2020-21 financial year grant of $22.5 million to the BTA had been maintained at the same level as the previous year.
However, he warned “the pending restructuring of the BTA may cause some of this grant to be redirected as a result of the restructuring”.
Mr Dickinson told MPs that Bermuda must “devise and introduce a slate of annual events that drives visitors to Bermuda and better reflects our claim to be a luxury destination”.
He added that the country also had to “renew the efforts of air service development to expand airlift capacity from key markets”.
A former non-executive director of the BTA denied yesterday that the organisation needed tinkering with.
Peter Everson, who served two terms from 2014 until he left last December, said the BTA had “achieved phenomenal results harnessing the energy of Bermuda stakeholders and the almost wholly Bermudian staff”.
Mr Everson added: “It has planted the seeds for future growth while highlighting the impediments. It is data-driven and exclusively focused on driving tourism in Bermuda for the long-term benefit of all Bermudians.”
Mr Everson highlighted a 40 per cent increase in hotel gross receipts between 2014 and 2018 and said hotel occupancy had risen “from 52.6 per cent in 2015 to 63.7 per cent in 2018, and declined to 61 per cent in 2019”.
He added that 2019 was the “third-best year for leisure arrivals since 2002”, and that the 6 per cent drop last year compared to 2018 was due to a decline in air service capacity from New York and Boston, Bermuda’s two largest markets, as well as problems over investment at the Fairmont Southampton hotel.
Mr Everson said: “The Fairmont Southampton ... is the sole location for substantial group business.
“The hotel had been for sale for some years and the previous owners failed to make the investments in maintaining its competitive edge and, as each year went by, it became harder and harder to secure group business. These headwinds were well-flagged within the industry.
“The combination of these factors makes the 2019 outcome very credible. The BTA knew of these problems and drove increased cruise arrivals to make up for this hit on our economy.
“They succeeded — overall tourist spending increased by $13 million.”
Mr Everson said that, rather than a restructure at the BTA, the Government should concentrate on the provision of alternative transport methods for the island’s visitors.
He added: “The No 1 issue for visitors is transportation and this is entirely under government control.
“They are a monopoly provider of bus and ferry services. They regulate taxis, bike and car rentals.
“Our visitors cry out for alternatives but the Government has been a staunch defender of the status quo.”
Mr Everson agreed that Bermuda needed a renewed push to boost air service to the island.
He said: “The former Department of Tourism stopped doing this prior to 2013.
“The BTA asked for this important task to be devolved to them, but were unable to persuade relevant ministers until recently.”
Mr Everson added: “Now, a seasoned international consulting practice has been engaged by the BTA and the airport authority.
“However, air service development has a long lead time. An added headwind is that many of our North American airline partners are currently struggling with fleet management due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft.”
Mr Everson said Bermuda’s tourism industry this year would “continue to be impacted by the reduced airlift from the US”.
He said: “The Fairmont Southampton will close at some point for renovation. When that happens, there will be a significant impact because it represents 25 per cent of our hotel capacity.”
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