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Hanbury: Arrivals down in the first quarter

Bermuda Tourism Authority CEO Bill Hanbury

Visitor arrivals fell in the first quarter as a result of lost air routes, according the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

However BTA CEO Bill Hanbury said the quarterly figures still had positive signs, particularly noting a $6.1 million increase in visitor spending during the period.

“We are moving in the right direction,” he said. “We are kind of in an awkward position where we are changing strategies. PR firms, social media, advertising agencies and websites have all been changed or are being changed.

“Some of these technical components have not fully hit the ground yet, so we are waiting on that.”

He said that the average per person expenditure by visitors arriving by air increased by $278, and the length of stay for visitors had increased.

However Mr Hanbury acknowledged that the visitor arrival numbers were less impressive, with total arrivals falling 5.3 per cent, which he said was driven by a 14.5 per cent drop in air lift to the Island.

“Air arrivals were down 6.7 per cent,” he said. “This decline can be attributed to a whole bunch of things. It can be the fact that we have been in decline for 30 years and we are still turning it around, but I believe more importantly then that was reduced service from multiple carriers — 16,000 fewer seats flew to Bermuda in the first quarter.”

More than 85 per cent of the eliminated airline seats were on flights that had been emanating from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The number of visitors from New Jersey fell by 20 per cent, while the number of visitors from Pennsylvania dropped 22 per cent.

Mr Hanbury also noted that hotel occupancy had fallen year-on-year, attributing part of the figure to the fact that more beds are available.

He said: “Two hotels were out of service in the first quarter of last year, so even if we performed at exactly the same level occupancy was going to go down.”

Advanced bookings meanwhile are slightly down overall, but he noted that the bookings for individual travellers as opposed to groups have increased by more than ten per cent.

“That’s a gigantic number in this business,” he said. “Our big problem is group bookings, and I’m sorry to say we can’t solve that for this year. We have got to keep chugging away at the individual side. The groups side of the business left the chamber years ago. It should have been dealt with then, it hasn’t been dealt with, and we have a lot to do in that area.

“I’m not going to tell you that we are going to have a slam dunk season, but I think we are going to have a good year and at the end of the day I think you will be pleased with the progress being made economically.”

Mr Hanbury announced that the BTA will be hosting an event today to bring stakeholders together with the goal of working to improve air service to the Island.

“This is not a BTA exclusive issue,” he said. “This issue also relates back to residents and international business, and I firmly believe that everybody should own this issue. Everybody on the Island ought to care about air lift. We are going to aggressively deal with the air lift issue. I think we are now in a better position to do that knowing that we believe the numbers are going to go north again.

“We have to be aggressive with the airline and we have to be in their face with them about providing capacity and not stepping away from us. We are going to deliver that message loud and clear to the airlines.

“The airlines are astute business people, and they are not going to respond until we can prove to them that the numbers are going up, and we believe that we have a compelling case to show them that in the future demand is going up.”

Chairman of the BTA board David Dodwell also briefly spoke, stressing the amount of hard work being done by the BTA.

“Our biggest problem is air lift,” he said. “It’s a chicken and egg situation where the plans won’t come until the business comes, the new investors won’t come until the airlines come. The meeting we are having I think is critical because it brings the whole community in.

“The BTA is blamed for air lift, but we actually don’t control it. The airlines are commercial, and they will take a flight out of here if they think they can fly somewhere else and get another dollar. We have to work with them, we have to build relationships, but that takes the entire community.”

• For the BTA Visitor Arrival Report, click on the PDF file under “Related Media”.