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Airlift drop-off concern for hoteliers

Strategic moves: Stephen Todd, left, and Tim Morrison checking out the new Prince and Princess Club at the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club (Photograph supplied)

Before the America’s Cup got under way in 2017, organisers promised the world; cash, attention, tourism — Bermuda would get it all.

Two years on, hotel industry leaders Stephen Todd and Tim Morrison said the six-week sailing event more than lived up to its hype.

“Being the America’s Cup host hotel before the event, it was very successful for us, for the year, but moreover brought attention back to the island,” said Mr Morrison, general manager of the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club, and Bermuda Hotel Association president. He arrived two years ago, just after the America’s Cup ended. But it wasn’t a cure-all. Bermuda still has a number of problems that tourism professionals are trying to work through.

“Right now we have a 4 per cent projected drop-off in airlift this year through one of our main gateway cities, which is out of JFK,” Mr Morrison said. “We just can’t see further erosion, because it will impact the ‘heads in beds’ and the people to the island and the economy.”

The two believe the seasonal nature of Bermuda’s tourism is one factor holding the island back. Ironically, Bermuda started out as a winter destination. Back in the 1880s, when the Hamilton Princess was first built, it was a place for wealthy people from snowy climates to catch a little sun, but not too much sun.

Over time it changed completely to become a spring and summer trip.

However, Mr Todd, the chief executive officer of the Bermuda Hotel Association, insists you can still have a wonderful time during Bermuda’s “off-season” from January to October.

“We are struggling to find ways to end the seasonality of Bermuda tourism,” Mr Morrison said.

He admitted that winter in Bermuda, with temperatures sometimes dipping into the 50s, doesn’t provide a lot of beach weather, but he thinks it’s great for group business and events.

During the ITU World Triathlon last April the hotel reached around 90 per cent occupancy.

“We did very well,” he said. “And that was approaching the high season.”

To take a strike at seasonality, the Hamilton Princess is winterising its open-air 1609 Bar and Restaurant overlooking Hamilton Harbour.

“We are putting a roof and doors on it so we can use it for groups and use it into the winter season,” Mr Morrison said. “You’ll still get that wonderful sea breeze location. The windows will pop up and the wind will flow through the facility. There will be some changes to the menu. We will be rolling that out in the start of April.”

Mr Todd thought that if Bermuda’s tourism was year around, more Bermudians might be attracted to the industry, because they wouldn’t have to find another source of income in the off-season.

“There are so many career paths in the industry,” he said. “We are one of the largest employers in Bermuda. We need to ensure we don’t just attract, but retain the talent and those who are committed to maintaining our service to keep our visitors coming back.”

Another challenge for Mr Todd and Mr Morrison is simply helping the outside world to locate Bermuda on the map.

“Years ago people knew more about Bermuda, but the newer generation doesn’t know about Bermuda as much,” Mr Morrison said. “We need to do our part.”

Mr Todd said: “Bermuda is still one of the best kept secrets.” He wants people who do know about us to think of us as a weeklong destination, not a weekend getaway.

“At the Hamilton Princess alone, you could spend several days enjoying the amenities on the property as opposed to venturing out, but once they do, we want to make sure they have a total experience of a destination.”

Another problem for Bermuda is transport.

Last summer there were sometimes four cruise ships in port with 9,000 visitors looking to get around the island.

“It’s about putting a game plan in place,” Mr Morrison said. “We have to talk as an industry to see how we can work together to avoid these transportation problems.”

Mr Todd said we’d seen a number of great additions to Bermuda’s transportation, such as the introduction of two-seater electric cars.

“They are great for couples, but didn’t work as well for families with multiple children,” he said. Children are an important part of the 2018 Bermuda Tourism Plan, which aims to bring more families to the island.

The hotel just finished renovating a pink cottage on the grounds to house their new Prince and Princess Club programme. The cottage has toys, games and activities for the hotel’s younger guests.

“We are working on appealing to children more so we can get families here,” Mr Morrison said.