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Optimism over increase in air arrivals

Tourism boost: Bill Hanbury, chief executive of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, says the body’s marketing efforts are gaining traction (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Tourism chiefs have reacted with “cautious optimism” to news that air arrivals for the first quarter of 2016 hit their highest level for seven years.

Between January 1 and March 31, 18,189 leisure visitors flew to Bermuda — an increase of nearly 14 per cent compared with 2015 and the largest figure since 2008.

The first-quarter statistics released by the Bermuda Tourism Authority yesterday also indicated a change in the demographic of tourist with more younger visitors travelling to the island.

The welcome boost to air arrivals, which included a rise in travellers visiting family or friends in Bermuda, comes after air capacity for the first three months was increased by nearly a quarter compared with 2015.

“That increased air capacity is so important,” Jessica Mello, vice chairwoman of the BTA said. “We have worked very hard to get these extra flights and also fill these seats and these extra flights provide more options to visitors.

“Compared to the last time we had the same number of seats available, we are filling more of them now.

“All of the growth has come in New York and Boston, which is where we have focused our marketing and advertising and is a validation of those efforts. But it’s not just the number, it’s the mix of people too. We are seeing a different demographic as a result of the large investment in product and experiences.”

The quarterly report revealed that just over 40 per cent of the leisure air arrivals came from New York City, while 13 per cent originated in Boston.

Air arrivals from the UK dropped by just a handful of passengers compared to the previous year, while the Canadian market continued to diminish and shrunk by another 15 per cent compared with last year.

Meanwhile, the number of younger visitors in the 18 to 24, 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 age categories all showed significant increases for the first quarter compared with the same period of 2015.

Bill Hanbury, CEO of the BTA, said: “The BTA’s integrated and targeted marketing efforts are getting traction in our key markets and demographics. When you combine good data, innovative, creative, and solid execution Bermuda’s tourism economy benefits.”

Cruise arrivals for the first quarter of 2016 also increased significantly from just over 300 passengers in 2015 to 3,341. Business air travel between January and March dropped by a little more than 2 per cent compared with 2015, but the number of air passengers visiting friends and family on the island rose by nearly 24 per cent.

David Dodwell, chairman of the BTA, told The Royal Gazette: “We hope to see this trend of rising air arrivals continue through this year and remain cautiously optimistic.

“There are factors outside our control like the Canadian economy, but the increase in arrivals from the US has more than made up for the drop in Canadian numbers.”

Direct spending by air visitors into the local economy during the first quarter rose 4 per cent compared to the same period a year ago. Holidaymakers spent an estimated $20.4 million, about $768,000 more than the first quarter of 2015.

Hotel occupancy also grew 7.4 per cent during the first three months of the year compared with 2015. On average hotels commanded slightly less revenue for their rooms in the first quarter and visitors’ length of stay was shorter.

Mr Dodwell said: “All these numbers are leaning in the right direction which is very positive from a hotelier perspective because they allow the hotels to employ for longer.

“What is also worth noting is that the Caribbean is down for the first quarter in hotel occupancy for the first time in the last eight to ten years, while we are up.”

Mr Hanbury added: “We know the first quarter is just the start of the year and in order to stay in positive territory we must maintain this trend of growth in the second and third quarters as well.”