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Todd: We must stand out from tourism rivals

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TripAdvisor's survery (Graphic by Chantelle Emery)

Bermuda must sell itself as “a completely different visitor experience” in the face of intensifying competition, according to Bermuda Hotel Association chief executive officer Stephen Todd.

With locals eyeing the tourism success of fellow islands such as Barbados, and a likely new rival in Cuba, Mr Todd said the Island needed to differentiate itself to win back visitors.

Statistics from United States travel website TripAdvisor show the Island rates relatively favourably in terms of the cost of a vacation, ranking eighth out of 20 destinations in the region.

Flights from the US to Bermuda are shown to be less expensive than to many Caribbean islands; however hotel and meal prices were higher in Bermuda than in any other country in the top ten. (See graphic on page 3)

However, Mr Todd cautioned against the tendency to look south, telling The Royal Gazette: “It’s like comparing apples and oranges; it’s not like for like. Really what we have to keep first and foremost in our minds is that we’re dealing with a completely different seasonal experience on the part of a North American visitor.

“Their high season is traditionally referred to as our off season, when we tend to have a lower number of visitors. American visitors tend to look to the Caribbean in the winter months, to get away from the snow.”

For Americans, who supply the bulk of Bermuda’s visitors, the destinations of Puerto Rico and Jamaica come top of the TripAdvisor price rankings.

The two American favourites enjoy cheap air links, despite being twice the distance as Bermuda from a gateway city such as New York.

A single one-way fare on American Airlines out of Boston, for instance — just two hours’ flying time from Bermuda — shows $234 to the Island for October 1.

The same tickets cost just $237 to San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Puerto Rico, and $275 to Kingston, Jamaica. Meanwhile, earlier this summer, Barbados broke a 25-year tourism record for the first quarter of 2015, even as Bermuda’s arrivals slipped.

With political pressure unabated on the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA), that performance did not escape the notice of Shadow Minister for Tourism Zane DeSilva.

Mr DeSilva has pointed out in the House of Assembly that Barbados appears to have done well since the return home of Billy Griffith, former director of the Department of Tourism, which disbanded for the BTA.

Mr Griffith joined the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc, also a new entity, as its chief executive officer.

The giant of Cuba, emerging as a major tourism contender as relations thaw with the US, stands to change the Caribbean market profoundly.

Mr Todd said: “It’s a very interesting development — I believe it’s more critical for our partners farther south, perhaps more so for the Bahamas and Jamaica.”

Low-cost airline JetBlue started direct flights from New York JFK to Havana this summer, and Carnival announced Cuba cruises to begin next year.

The Bermuda Hotel Association perceives Bermuda’s competitors in a global rather than regional context, according to Mr Todd.

“We focus on the fact that we are all competing for the same visitors globally,” he said. “We’re out in the Atlantic on our own, and that makes our challenges that much greater to attract and retain visitors.”

The BTA’s strategy has been to market Bermuda as “a year-round destination, not focusing on April through September, which is traditionally considered our high season”. “If we market ourselves on the basis of alternative activities and a completely different visitor experience, I do believe we will have an opportunity to attract more.”

Twenty years of declining tourism “is not something we can turn around overnight”, he added. For now, Mr Todd said, the Island could reasonably hope for an influx next month from the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series.

Mr Todd’s remarks came as Shawn Crockwell, the Minister for Transport, heads home from a major airlines conference in South Africa, where he earlier expressed hopes of securing a new route for the Island from Europe, such as from Heathrow.

Bermuda Hotel Association CEO Stephen Todd