Crystal Caves sparkle as visitor numbers rise
Some businesses are benefiting from increased visitor spending although the boost has not been universal.
Bermuda institutions such as the Crystal Caves have enjoyed a rise in visitors but others such as Hartley's Helmet Diving have not yet felt the difference.
Earlier this month, the Bermuda Tourism Authority said that in addition to increased air visitor arrivals, visitor spending in the first quarter was 30 per cent higher than in 2016.
Speaking before the opening of the America's Cup, David Summers, president of Wonderland Limited who operate the Crystal Caves, said that the number of visitors coming to the caves has increased by a third.
“We really did not know what to expect as far as cave visitation is concerned during this very special year for Bermuda,” Mr Summers said. “It was difficult to determine a direct connection between yacht racing and show caves.”
Last year was the best since 1996 in terms of visitor numbers.
“While it would be beyond our expectation for this increase to sustain itself over the full year, it is nevertheless a great start to the year,” Mr Summers added.
He said it was difficult to determine what had caused the “welcome” boost but that the America's Cup, improvements in the global economy and the efforts of the BTA were probably factors.
“The staff, who are all Bermudian, are very excited about the opportunity to show our underground marvels to an increasing number of visitors,” he added.
“All hands are on deck, and stand ready to welcome all of Bermuda's visitors to our caves.
“We truly believe that the benefit we are experiencing will be reflected in all businesses in Bermuda this year.”
However, Greg Hartley of Hartley's Helmet Diving said its visitor numbers had fallen slightly this year, although May had been better than last year.
“We are not snorkelling or scuba diving,” he said. “We are different and we attract different people. Most of the people travelling on the ship get led by their shore excursions programme to do the standard programmes.
“We opened up earlier last year and April 2016 was fairly good. This May has performed better than last year, but as a whole we are down about 4 per cent in the year.
“We attract folks who are more willing to think outside the box, therefore we are a niche market that is not wholly responsive to an increase in the mass market. The BTA is due much credit in promoting Bermuda and I hope many businesses are enjoying a 30 per cent increase in sales.”
Meanwhile, the restaurant industry appears to be experiencing an economic boost. Restaurateur Philip Barnett, the head of the restaurant division of the Chamber of Commerce, said line revenues had been up in the first quarter.
“What this means for most restaurants that struggle with negative profitability generally from January through April, is that we will have lost less rather than made more,” he said.
“But a win is a win, so restaurants that have increased in gross revenues in the first quarter will be very pleased, as less dollars went out the door to stay in business.
“The ideal situation, and which I believe most hospitality and tourism-related businesses are hoping will continue, is the ‘smoothing out' of the shoulder seasons, and creating enough economic activity that we can start targeting breakeven profit/losses in the non-high season periods.
“In the high season, when Bermuda's carrying capacity is trending more towards full, there is only so much sales and profit we can maximise on.
“Mitigating the money-losing periods by increasing sales volume in shoulder seasons will have the biggest impact on restaurant viability and profitability.”
However, he said the reintroduction of payroll tax in the restaurant industry could be a threat to many eateries already struggling to make ends meet.
“While the industry is very slowly improving, restaurants are still only reporting a consolidated annual profit of around 2 per cent or less in 2016, which when you consider the huge investment and significant risks in the restaurant business is a razor-thin profit margin.
“It is also more than slightly worrying that inflationary costs, even on top of the increased payroll tax, continue to spiral and attack those slim margins.”