Hotel managers see reasons for renewed optimism in tourism
Bermuda's Tourism industry has been given plenty of false dawns in recent years, with promises of ‘platinum periods' and corners being turned. But despite the optimism of any number of Tourism Ministers, visitor numbers have yet to return to their heyday highs of the late 1980s. Now, with a new Government at the helm and a new organisation set to take over the industry in the coming months, The Royal Gazette is checking the mood among stakeholders to discover if confidence in our “second pillar” is returning, and what can be done to turn that confidence into results. In the first of a series of interviews, reporter Gareth Finighan sat down with Cambridge Beaches General manager Clarence Hofheins, and manager Richard Quinn.
Hugging a peninsular at the western end of the Island, Cambridge Beaches is one of Bermuda's oldest and most respected cottage colony resorts. It is also home to four spectacular beaches and, while steeped in history, provides up-to-date facilities for guests who yearn for some upscale pampering in a private haven. It exudes that perfect combination of old-world charm and upmarket sophistication, somehow managing to be both exclusive and informal at the same time.
Despite these five-star attributes, Cambridge Beaches — like many resorts — suffered from several lean years recently. Nevertheless, Mr Hofheins is confident about the future. The resort was recently refurbished and now incudes an infinity pool, fitness centre and luxury spa and this season's balance sheet looks set to record an upswing.
“Year-to-date through August 31, 2013 we have seen over a 23 percent increase in room nights and a 12 percent increase of revenue over last year,” he said.
“I believe that we are starting to see a slight turn around in the tourism business. The last four years have been very difficult for Bermuda and our hotels. Based on our results at Cambridge Beaches this year, I am very optimistic that we have a chance to see some significant growth in the industry.
“I do not believe it is going to happen overnight but I am confident that next year is going to be a better year and I believe that 2015 has the potential to be a great year for the Island.”
For Mr Quinn, the secret of the resort's success is very simple. It provides fantastic facilities and excellent service, harnessing Bermuda's reputation for hospitality.
“Many of our guests are repeat visitors and they come here for one thing — our beaches,” Mr Quinn said.
“Actually two things — our beaches and our hospitality. It's something that's unique to Bermuda, that visitors can't experience anywhere else in the world.”
For a man with so many years of experience working in hospitality, it is perhaps not surprising that Mr Quinn has a point. Last week Bermuda came out top in a survey of Atlantic and Caribbean destinations by readers of Conde Nast Traveler, with friendliness seen by voters as Bermuda's star attribute.
Providing excellent service in beautiful surroundings is at the heart of the Cambridge Beaches philosophy, and both Mr Hofheins and Mr Quinn believe its success can be transferred to a wider, Bermuda model — if certain changes to the industry structure are implemented.
Government plans to create a new Tourism Authority to replace the Bermuda Department of Tourism in the coming weeks, with legislation setting out the switch expected to be tabled in the House on Friday. The promise from Government is that the new organisation will take politics out of the industry and place it in the hands of experts and stakeholders.
That change in approach is welcomed by Mr Hofheins, who believes that facilities and service alone are not enough to reinvigorate the industry. “I believe that the Tourism Authority, if set up properly and led by young innovative thinkers, will be a great success,” he said.
“I have been impressed by the Minister of Tourism [Shawn Crockwell], though I only have met him once. I think he gets it — he has a clear vision of what needs to happen for the Tourism Authority to be successful. It will really come down to the leadership of the Authority and the implementation of up-to-date strategies that will start to generate more people visiting the Island.”
For Mr Hofheins, selling Bermuda is the weak link in the overall product.
“We need to tap into the younger generation, the 20-to-40 year olds, and start using marketing ideas and technologies that they are used to seeing,” he said.
“I think that we have relied on the same ideas and promotions that have been used for the last ten years, and though some of them have worked, I think we miss attracting the new generation of travellers.
“There is a great quote that I read from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, commenting on the status of the Washington Post Company that he has just purchased. He said ‘If your customer base ages with you, you're Woolworth. The number one rule has to be — don't be boring'.
“He also went on to say ‘There are three things that I follow. Put the customer first, invent and be patient'. I have taken those words to heart and believe they are applicable to our industry.”
Providing value-for-money is another essential that the Island must focus on if it is to remain competitive.
“I can only speak for Cambridge Beaches,” Mr Hofheins said, “ but we have focused on adding more value to our offers and working hard to ensure that the guests that stay with us leave the property feeling that it was worth every penny.”
Highlighting our proximity to the key US East Coast market, and extending the high season to include May and September could also reap benefits, Mr Hofheins claimed.
But above all, he believes the country must work together — with everyone taking responsibility in order for everyone to benefit.
“When I say ‘we' I mean both the Government and the private sector,” he said.
“Because it's not just about Cambridge Beaches, or the Southampton Princess or whatever — it's about everybody playing their part. Because if the Southampton Princess is doing well, we will do well. There's a place for everything, including cruise ships, while they don't really impact hotels, cruise ship visitors will help the tour boat operators and what have you. We need to succeed together.
“And it's also about the man on the street who might not be directly working in tourism, but sees a visitor needing directions and so helps out. Really we're all stakeholders — the entire island. It's just a question of getting the balance right.
“So far, I am encouraged by what I am seeing from the Government and from the private sector and as we reinvent ourselves we will see great benefits for everyone. However, we do need to be patient.”
Mr Hofheins believes another key to success is to keep bringing young Bermudians into the industry and he is encouraged by the commitment and dedication of a number of interns at Cambridge Beaches.
He had no intention of forging a career as a hotelier himself, but working a summer job at a resort in his native US while a medical student at university opened his eyes to the opportunities within the industry.
“I think it's important for our young people not to regard working in the hospitality industry as a stopgap, temporary job, something they do in the summers to pay off their college fees,” he said.
Young Bermudians may offer fresh enthusiasm and a different outlook, but how can an industry seen by many as stagnant attract keen and capable talent? For Mr Quinn, tourism has a major selling point.
“What we do is make people's dreams come true and there's nothing more satisfying,” he said.
“You have to remember that people who come here may have had to have saved all year round and for them, their two weeks in Bermuda is going to be the highlight of their year. And what we do is make sure that happens, by being here for them, providing what they need and making sure that their stay is as special as we can make it. That might mean going the extra mile, but it's worth it. There's no better job.”