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Covid-19 costs tourism $95m in first quarter

Bermuda's tourism industry has already been dealt a $95 million blow by Covid-19.

Figures released by the Bermuda Tourism Authority yesterday show visitor air arrivals fell by 38 per cent in the first quarter while cruise ship arrivals plummeted by 41.8 per cent.

However, Glenn Jones, the BTA interim chief executive, warned that those figures capture only the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said 67 cruise ship visits for 2020 had already been cancelled — 35 per cent of all scheduled cruises — and it was estimated that 36,600 visitor air arrivals had been lost since March 20.

Mr Jones said: “If you measure out the visitor spending from those cancelled cruise ships, it would be just over $44 million.

“If you estimate how much those air visitors would have spent, that's another $51.3 million.

“That's $95 million total — and that doesn't include taxes and fees. That's money that would be spent in people's businesses, that go towards people's jobs.”

Mr Jones said the decline in visitors was “unparalleled” in Bermuda's modern history.

“This year's second quarter is even more worrying, as the return dates of regularly scheduled air and cruise travel to Bermuda remain unknown,” he added.

“Heading into 2020, a lack of air capacity was our biggest concern. Now, our biggest challenge is getting the tourism economy open again, safely and responsibly.”

Mr Jones expressed hope that the island would be able to open its doors again this summer and, while businesses in Bermuda's tourism industry have been “severely injured”, they have shown patience in the circumstances.

“They understand that slowly, safely and responsibly is their surest way of getting back on their feet,” he said.

“They know that if you go too quickly and regress, that is even more damaging.”

Mr Jones said that in the meanwhile, the BTA has turned its attention towards an “inside-out approach” that will encourage Bermudians to support tourism-related businesses.

“The tourism economy is going to be ready to reopen before the airport is welcoming back regularly scheduled flights,” Mr Jones said.

“That means if we want to get workers back on the job as soon as possible, we are going to require the Bermuda community to inject some of their spending into the tourism economy.”

He said more than 2,000 people in the tourism sector were out of work because of the pandemic, and that 70 per cent of workers in the industry were Bermudian.

Mr Jones said the BTA will encourage the public to enjoy takeout food, shop at local retailers and return to the golf course as Bermuda continues to reopen.

He added: “A campaign for staycations, yachting or spas could follow, some of it held back to roll out around the time our airport lifts restrictions for non-residents and regularly scheduled commercial flights restart.

“All of this activity is designed to inspire our community to support the tourism industry with local spending at a time when visitors can't.”

When Bermuda does reopen for guests, he said the BTA believes it has a message that will resonate for travellers in a competitive market.

Mr Jones said: “We are close, we are safe and we are clean, and those three things are going to rise to the top of importance for travellers in the northeast because they are not going to want to spend a lot of time on an aircraft.

“They are going to want to know they are going somewhere that managed Covid-19 well, and I think we qualify in that regard. Bermuda is famous for its cleanliness and that will translate to health safety for visitors.”

Zane DeSilva, the Minister of Tourism and Transport, said recovery talks have focused on reopening Bermuda's tourism industry when the time is right.

Mr DeSilva said: “We are working to solve problems no one has ever seen before, yet across the tourism economy — from hoteliers and retailers to restaurant owners and tour operators — I find people who are undaunted and fully committed to the task of bringing tourism back.

“That tenacity and dedication speaks to our resilience, and the collaboration is encouraging.”

To see the full figures released by the Bermuda Tourism Authority, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”

Challenge ahead: Glenn Jones, the interim CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority (File photograph)

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Published May 06, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated May 06, 2020 at 9:05 am)

Covid-19 costs tourism $95m in first quarter

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