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No quick fix for tourism, says Hanbury

Bermuda Tourism Authority CEO Bill Hanbury (Photo by Mark Tatem)

Bill Hanbury, the chief executive officer of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, said it was unrealistic to expect to reverse declining visitor numbers overnight after the latest figures showed a continuing downward trend.

Mr Hanbury’s comments came ahead of tomorrow’s Bermuda Tourism Summit and after the Department of Statistics released third quarter figures for 2014 that showed visitor arrivals have declined by 4,617 year-over-year.

Air arrivals decreased 5.6 per cent compared with 2013, and arrivals from the United States, Bermuda’s largest tourist market, fell 5.8 per cent. Visitors from the United Kingdom and all other countries recorded declines of 12.3 per cent and 12.6 per cent respectively. In contrast, air arrivals from Canada rose 10.5 per cent, and cruise ship arrivals increased 7.9 per cent to 169,846 passengers.

Despite the disappointing numbers, Mr Hanbury believes this year will see improvements.

“Nobody should be happy about these numbers,” he told The Royal Gazette. “But after about 30 years of decline we’re not going to say we can turn this around overnight.”

Mr Hanbury had previously promised “renewed energy and vitality in the product” within six months, but believed it was unrealistic to expect numbers to improve in that time.

He said: “2015 will be a better year — a year BTA will be responsible for.

“We don’t have all the answers. The consumers and the industry have the answers. This is why we’re having the Bermuda Tourism Summit.”

The summit, which will be held at the Fairmont Southampton, is the first event of its kind, said Mr Hanbury, adding that he hopes it will become an annual event where stakeholders come together and interact, where the BTA explains what they’re trying to accomplish, and discover more about the things stakeholders are doing in the market place.

Topics will include “Destination Marketing”, “The Year Ahead” and “Collaborating For Greater Success”.

There are breakout sessions and panellists include TripAdvisor’s head of destination marketing sales for the Americas, media from leading media companies and other tourism specialists from Bermuda and overseas.

“More than 300 people have signed up to participate — we had hoped for between 50 and 100.

“So there’s a lot of interest in tourism, and people believe this is an important moment for tourism and want to be a part of the solution for fixing a very dynamic part of the economy.”

In addition to presentations and workshops, Dr Grant Gibbons, Minister of Economic Development, will talk about the America’s Cup.

Mr Hanbury said the Minister would discuss “the extraordinary benefits the America’s Cup will bring to the Bermuda economy”. He called it a “game changer” and a “once in a lifetime opportunity”, and added that the benefits would go on long beyond the event itself.

“America’s Cup is not a one-sided proposal,” he said. “There is a cost associated with the event, but the direct economic impact ... the long-term benefits over several years will far exceed the $250 million benefit.

“We have a very powerful event. It will be a Super Bowl for Bermuda, it’s the same kind of value — we are going to derive the same benefits from a marketing and image perspective.”

He said the America’s Cup goes to the heart of Bermuda’s product, and called it “the sweet spot” when viewed alongside Bermuda’s marine legacy. Going forward, Bermuda will become recognised as place to hold premier sports events, and he sees cycling, triathlons and fishing events among them.

For now, he promised that the BTA would provide “better execution and better focus on the markets that can buy Bermuda”.

In the past, Mr Hanbury said, there was not a lot of sophisticated use of business intelligence but he believes that has changed. On Sunday the BTA got more unique visits to their website than ever — 15,000 hits.

Driving traffic to the website was “a very modest campaign”, but the BTA are using effective, online technology, which allows them to optimise Bermuda’s media presence, and “double down” on those areas that are successful.

There are some sites, for example, that will show the Bermuda temperature only when it is 60 degrees and above and the US temperature when it is 32 degrees and below.

While a 30-degree improvement in weather would appeal to many would-be visitors, Mr Hanbury said “we’re not going to be all things to all people”.

“We are a destination for discriminating visitors.”

He added: “We build a brand that just happens to include golf, scuba, and the beach. [But] Bermuda is a destination where you can have a wide range of experiences.

“Surveys have told us that the product and the reality of that product are two different things. So a lot of work is going on with the team to improve the experience and product on-Island, so that we provide products and experiences the consumer wants.”

The BTA is also working towards finding smaller cruise ships for Hamilton and St George’s.

“We’re making progress,” Mr Hanbury said. “Holland America is coming back for six visits in 2015 and four in 2016.”

The Authority is also talking to Viking and Silver Seas among other cruiselines as well.

“You can see this BTA team — it is a brilliant young group of Bermudians who are assembled to solve this complicated problem.

“This is about Bermudians putting Bermudians to work in a tourism industry. We are laser-focused on achieving great things for Bermuda’s tourism economy.”