Log In

Reset Password

News the Opposition doesn’t want you to hear

Vic Ball

Members of the Opposition who are trying to convince the public that the Bermuda Tourism Authority has failed dismally in its bid to improve Bermuda’s visitor arrivals are putting the worst possible gloss on the truth. Those who might be disheartened by their relentless campaign to denigrate the BTA should read on.

Yes, air arrivals are down again — by 6.7 per cent in this year’s first quarter over the same period last year. There has been a 14.5 per cent reduction in available airlift, so perhaps a loss of just over 2,000 arrivals is not surprising. The first three months of the year are always our weakest in terms of tourist arrivals, so fluctuation in Q1 figures shouldn’t be seen as the end of the world.

At the same time, there is a good-news story to tell about tourism, if you look beyond the obvious.

First, cruise ship arrivals are expected to increase by 10 per cent in 2016, which represents 37,000 additional visitors. The BTA has been targeting the high-end ships in the cruise industry and has had a great deal of success, according to my colleague, Shawn Crockwell, the tourism minister.

Second, visitor spending is up by 21 per cent in this year’s Q1. Visitor spending has a lot more to do with job creation and growing the tourism economy than air arrival numbers do. The BTA forecasts total visitor spending to grow by $100 million between 2014 and 2017.

So it can be said that this figure alone demonstrates that the BTA has begun proving it has the ability to grow the tourism economy by aiming its marketing efforts at a more affluent visitor, who not only spends more, but stays longer. With the average daily rate for a hotel room up 6.3 per cent in Q1 2015, this must have taken much of the sting out of lower air-arrival numbers for hotels.

But let’s get away from the numbers for a minute, and look at the improvements the BTA is making in Bermuda’s tourism infrastructure, which has been slowly deteriorating for years. I acknowledge that the BTA itself provided me with this list.

• The BTA product and experiences team uses market research data to understand what the customer wants and then financially backs local entrepreneurs who can create products and experiences that meet those customer demands. It’s called the Tourism Experiences Investment Process. Its launch marked the end of us giving visitors what we think they should have and began an era of giving customers what they want. This strategy has produced many successful experiences, many of them new. Examples: Hydro-bikes, Bermuda Carnival/Heroes Weekend, aerial tours, hidden gems, beach yoga, etc. So far $1.4 million has been invested in home-grown ideas. These home-grown ideas create jobs.

• The BTA has been challenging restaurateurs to create Bermuda-inspired dishes because visitors tell us they want authentically local cuisine when they travel. Restaurant Weeks 2015 produced greater revenue for all participating restaurants that the BTA surveyed. One local establishment reported year-over-year sales up 92 per cent! Another restaurateur said he was shocked Q1 visitor numbers were down because his sales revenue was up so sharply.

• The BTA put the same dollar investment in the Pink Sale for 2015 that the former Bermuda Department of Tourism put into the promotion for 2014, but got far better results. There was a 45 per cent growth in number of reservations, 24 per cent growth in room nights and a 24 per cent increase in direct visitor spending. That represents about $900,000, year over year.

• The BTA budget from Bermuda taxpayers this year is $21.7 million. That’s down 31 per cent from the 2013-14 budget, the last budget year for the former Bermuda Department of Tourism. So while taxpayer funds spent on tourism is going down with the BTA, the economic impact of the tourism industry spending is going up. That means the BTA is providing a healthier return on investment for the country than it was getting before — a result that can’t be measured in air visitors alone.

• The spirit of entrepreneurship and job creation is under way in St George’s largely because of the BTA. It has helped to make Tobacco Bay the kind of beach experience young visitors are looking for, it has backed new experiences such as the haunted history walking tour, two new beach buses are running, connecting visitors with businesses, beaches and cultural attractions in St George’s and St David’s. This is the kind of economic stimulus imagined in the National Tourism Plan.

• To combat the seasonality issue and the burden it puts on the tourism economy, the BTA is chasing collegiate teams who need a mild climate for training during spring break. This could mean track teams, swim teams, field hockey teams, sailing teams, etc. In Q1, six collegiate golf teams came to Bermuda and played on our courses while the weather was too cold back home. And many of the golfers and their coaches brought their families. This strategy clearly has a more beneficial impact on the tourism economy when compared with college spring breakers. For one thing, families spend more.

That’s not the bad news the Opposition wants you to hear at all, is it?

• Vic Ball is a Government senator and Junior Minister of Tourism Development and Transport