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Bermuda should position itself as a wellness tourism destination

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Relaxing spot: sun loungers near the seawater swimming pool at Ariel Sands, which was the location of Hub Culture's pop-up innovation campus and beach club (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

In 2019, Bermuda hosted 808,242 tourists, which is the most in our history. In the same year, the tourism industry directly contributed 5.1 per cent to our GDP. Of course, tourism has been severely impacted these past two years. There is no reason, however, why Bermuda cannot go back on another growth trend once the global industry resumes.

Although our overall tourism arrivals were on an up-trend before the pandemic, all is not rosy when you peel away the numbers. The cruise ship sector is driving more visitors to the island and it is well known they make up most of the island’s tourists. Visitors by air have shown improvement over the past few years but the long-term trend is a downward spiral.

To increase tourism’s contribution to Bermuda’s GDP and, more importantly, the number of jobs that are directly related to the industry, visitors by air must reverse their long-term decline. To illustrate how significant this is, at least 75 per cent of the jobs that are directly related to tourism are due to our visitors that travel to the island by plane.

Part of the challenge, which the BTA itself has admitted, is the lack of hotel beds and airlift to the island. That said, if we continue to have a downtrend of those that travel by air, the reluctance to invest in hotel beds would remain and airlines would be hesitant to commit capacity to the island. It is all linked.

To help increase the number of visitors flying to Bermuda on vacation, here are things I think about tourism.

Bermuda should embrace its perceived “boringness” and use it to attract a certain segment of visitors. More people are now going on vacation to unwind, reduce stress and recharge themselves to improve their health, productivity, and happiness. Bermuda tourism, led by both parties, has promoted wellness in the past, but I think Bermuda as a country should go all in. We need to not only sell it to our visitors, but live it every day for the benefit of locals as well.

Wellness tourism, according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) in the US, is “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing”. Using 2018 data, wellness tourism contributed $639 billion on a global scale and GWI predicts this sector will reach $919 billion within the next two years, which will represent 18 per cent of all global tourism.

With 1 billion individual wellness trips expected to take place around the world within the next few years, Bermuda should position itself to get a bigger slice of this pie. Wellness tourists are known to spend more than the average traveller and the stay tends to be longer.

Google recently announced the meditation app Balance as the winner of the best Android app of 2021. People are more tuned in today to their wellbeing, especially those from European countries, which may present new market opportunities for the BTA.

Bermuda may not have the lure of excitement that many of our competitors do offer. However, we do have what it takes to become a renowned wellness destination and take advantage of this emerging tourism segment.

I think Bermuda has a better chance of diversifying tourism than creating a new pillar to help our economy. Both tasks have been challenging to achieve but we already have almost everything in place that we need to expand tourism.

Most of the tourists that fly to Bermuda visit in the summer months, between May and August. In 2019, 54 per cent of the 191,417 visitors travelled by plane during those four months. Diversifying tourism would be the most effective way to grow arrivals during the off-season.

We have seen success with sports tourism events such as the America’s Cup, Sail GP, Bermuda Gold Cup, PGA golf tournaments, Bermuda Marathon Weekend, World Rugby Classic and World Triathlon Championship. Although the island can be proud of hosting these world-class events, the variety of sports we can cater to are limited. We have plenty of water to sail on, plenty of road space to run on, and we have golf courses suitable for professional tournaments. However, our lack of suitable sports facilities restricts the BTA in what they can promote.

I have already mentioned wellness as a segment that can further diversify our tourism industry. There has also been some discussion of medical tourism, although details have not been provided. Without knowing the intended plan, I would think it would be difficult to compete against exceptional facilities that exist already in the US, Canada, Britain, and Europe. However, if we can tie in health and wellness, that would be a better strategy and fit for the island.

Another segment to target is senior tourism. In 1999, 600 million international travellers were 60 years and older. This accounted for around a third of holiday spending. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the number of international travellers is projected to reach 2 billion trips annually by 2050.

Seniors have more savings and assets and those that travel have more time to spend on their vacation. They are less likely to be attracted by the frills and extra amenities, more flexible in their travel times and often prefer to travel in off-peak seasons.

For those that criticise and laugh at Bermuda mostly attracting “old” people, the joke will possibly be on them because baby-boomers have become a lucrative market. It is estimated seniors will make up nearly 25 per cent of the world’s population by 2050, compared with only 10 per cent in 2000. This will mean the senior tourism segment will be responsible for more holiday spending in the future than all the younger age groups combined.

I think the mandate of the BTA should be broadened beyond marketing and selling the island as a tourist destination. “Who owns the tourism product” is the question I have as some of the decisions that affects our tourism industry have been head scratching.

Special deal: Sense Spa at Rosewood Bermuda (Photograph provided)

Where was the BTA’s voice when it came to whether ATVs should be a product offered to tourists in Bermuda? What are their views on the proposed three-storey concession redevelopment at Horseshoe Beach? How mad are they that one of Bermuda’s most serene tourist sites, the Botanical Gardens, has deteriorated to the point of embarrassment and will take years to recover?

The BTA should be empowered to have a say in all these matters to ensure the Bermuda tourism product is protected and aligned with the tourists the island is trying to attract. I am cognisant the BTA does not have a budget, nor have the responsibility to offer licences, or ensure there is regular maintenance of Bermuda’s treasures. However, decisions must be made in the best interest of the island’s burgeoning tourism industry. This disjointed management of our product needs to be fixed.

For sure, all tourists are welcomed to the island. However, those that fly to Bermuda are the ones that spend more money and add more jobs. By further diversifying and segmenting the industry, we could attract more visitors throughout the year and beyond the “fun in the sun” prime-time summer months.

Bermuda has the pristine environment that would be suited to attract both wellness and senior tourism. Our island is a god’s creation of beauty that is like a painted canvas that does not need to be touched. We need to focus on the basics, keep it simple and make the experience safe and convenient.

Our slogan “Bermuda Is Another World” needs to be resurrected and on full display.

Malcolm Raynor has worked in the telecommunications industry in Bermuda for more than 30 years. Benefiting from Cable & Wireless’s internal training and education programmes held in Bermuda, Barbados, St Lucia (The University of the West Indies) and Britain, he rose to the level as senior vice-president. An independent thinker possessing a moderate ideology, his opinions are influenced by principle, data and trends

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Published December 20, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated December 19, 2021 at 5:01 pm)

Bermuda should position itself as a wellness tourism destination

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