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Room to improve

Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert received a gift when he took over his portfolio earlier this month improved third quarter tourism arrivals.

Mr Furbert can claim no credit for the July to September figures, but they do give him a positive foundation to build from in his new role.

The overall figures were very positive as arrivals for the period rose 17 percent. The figures for September were particularly strong as arrivals surged compared to September, 2010 when Hurricane Igor caused a wave of hotel and cruise ship cancellations.

A full slate of cruise arrivals also helped, again with arrivals in September being very strong as a result.

It is somewhat concerning that air arrivals only rose one percent in the period, but this has much to do with the Island’s limited pool of hotel rooms; occupancies for all three months rose, although there is clearly room to improve on September air arrivals.

It is worth noting that the increases in air arrivals were also due mainly to a big increase in convention and business visitors. The number of vacationers coming by air actually fell. While the convention business is very welcome, it does not seem to be having a knock-on effect for other properties, and that raises the question of whether the Island’s marketing is as effective as it should be.

The likely answer to that is that it won’t be since Bermuda remains without an advertising agency, and while a rebranding exercise is getting underway, there was no word in the Throne Speech about plans to retain a new agency. This is a mistake. Surely, no serious travel destination works without an advertising agency.

The statistics also made clear how important air lift is to the Island. The start of the Air Tran services from Atlanta and Baltimore resulted in strong increases in arrivals from those cities.

But arrivals from the Northeast cities that are Bermuda’s major markets were down or flat as flights were reduced, while Canadian arrivals were also down after WestJet scaled back its service.

At one time, responsibility for negotiating airlines and cruise visits rested with the Tourism Ministry and was not a function of Transport.

At some point, Dr Ewart Brown got the power to do this when he was Transport Minister and before he took over Tourism as well.

While both Ministries were joined, it worked well to have one Minister conduct the negotiations.

But now that they are separate, there is a good case to be made for reverting this power back to the Tourism and Business Development Ministry and away from Transport, since that Minister seems to have his hands full dealing with public and private transport in Bermuda. The Tourism Minister should have some control over the means of actually getting visitors to Bermuda.

The reduction in Canadian visitors is worrying since Bermuda should be very attractive to Canadians due to the strength of the Canadian dollar.

Still, the big problem remains the number of available beds, especially in the summer months.

Mr Furbert has promised that his Ministry is working around the clock to secure new hotels, but Bermudians have become very cynical about this.

In the meantime, as stated in a recent editorial and recommended in the Tourism Board’s strategy, there should be a concerted effort to have more Bermudians make apartments and rooms available to visitors as guest houses and bed and breakfasts.

The lower room rates and welcoming atmosphere of these properties would attract visitors deterred by Bermuda’s costs, it would get Bermudians re-engaged in tourism and it would boost incomes at a time when the real estate market is in decline.

It would be a small step in the right direction.

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Published November 25, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm)

Room to improve

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