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Tourism efforts and energy attract praise

Minister of Tourism Ewart Brown worked hard to bring "pop and sizzle" to an industry that has been on the decline for decades.

From the Bermuda Music Festival, to the TNT partnership for the PGA Grand Slam, to the pink taxis in London, Dr. Brown has looked for creative, attention-getting ways to put the spotlight on Bermuda as the destination of choice.

And his commitment to bringing new airlines to the Country has frequently been praised.

Dr. Brown has often referred to his time as Tourism Minister as the Platinum Period; several developers have announced plans to build luxury new hotels, although so far, no one has broken ground.

Despite this, air arrivals are now at their lowest since 1975, just 235,860 people flew to the Island in 2009 compared to 354,085 visitors in 1999, 418,352 visitors in 1989 and 456,781 visitors in 1979. Annual air arrivals have only dipped below 300,000 eight times in the last 30 years, five of which happened when Dr. Brown was in charge.

Meanwhile cruise arrivals have grown from 99,602 in 1975 to 324,000 in 2009. Cruise arrivals have climbed above 200,000 passengers nine times, six of which happened during Dr. Brown's time.

The number of hotel beds has dropped 31 percent since 2000 while visitor spending dropped from $437.9 million in 1999 to $266 million in 2009.

This week industry experts looked back on his six years as Tourism Minister and gave their views on his best decision and worst while at the helm of the second pillar of Bermuda's economy.

Many heralded his efforts to bring new airlines to the Island as Minister of Transport. They said his efforts in that portfolio benefited his other portfolio, the Ministry of Tourism.

Norman Mastalir, Managing Director of Fairmont Hotels Bermuda, said: "I believe that Dr. Brown has brought enthusiasm and commitment to the position and has put every ounce of attention towards improving the tourism market.

"Dr. Brown also achieved excellent work in attracting additional air services to the Island such as JetBlue and WestJet, as a whole making Bermuda more competitive in attracting tourists."

Echoing his sentiment was Bermuda Hotel Association Chairman John Harvey, Managing Director of Elbow Beach Frank Stocek and hotelier David Dodwell.

John Jefferis, owner of Coco Reef, has often praised the Premier for introducing new legislation to pave the way for fractionals, as has Newstead General Manager Clarence Hofheins.

Mr. Stocek added that overall he had a positive impression. "He gave it full effort, was always very responsive and accessible, listened to the industry, supported the industry financially and I believe he really did give 100 percent and gave his best game against the enormous challenges the Island's tourism industry faces.

"He tried so many initiatives and of course not all will be successful, but overall he did good for the industry."

Initiatives that did not succeed, according to other industry sources, were the Bermuda Music Festival, Faith Based Tourism and The Love Festival.

Another low point was the marketing campaign and company, according to some.

"GlobalHue was not a good choice," one source said. "They do not have a background in marketing an Island destination.

"There hasn't been a clear branding strategy, I like the new logo [Bermuda shorts] but tourists do not have a clear message about what Bermuda stands for."

Another said the move to target a wider market such as lower household incomes, faith-based groups and USA minority groups was "unwise".

"This Island is a high-priced destination that currently appeals to a specific target market and pursuing guests who cannot afford it, or who are looking for specific facilities the Island does not have yet, is not a sustainable initiative."

Mr. Harvey said that while some of Dr. Brown's initiatives did not work, such as Faith Based Toursim, it showed he was interested in going after various demographics.

The only "side step" of his tenure, according to Mr. Harvey, was the Southlands negotiations, which dragged on. But he said he was pleased a deal to swap the untouched Warwick acres for the former Morgan's Point baselands had been finalised and the development for a new hotel could begin.

Mr. Crellin added: "[He] really poured a lot of time and energy into supporting tourism and the industry in Bermuda. He did a great job in changing the focus of messaging and branding in order to attract more visitors from the US."

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Published October 22, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 10, 2010 at 10:06 am)

Tourism efforts and energy attract praise

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