BTA charm offensive launched in London and Charlotte, NC
The Bermuda Tourism Authority has turned more of its focus on attracting visitors from Charlotte and London – and older travellers – as part of its drive to rebuild the industry.
Glenn Jones, the interim BTA chief executive, said on an online webinar yestrerday that the authority would treat London and Charlotte as new markets as British Airways moves its from Gatwick to Heathrow and American Airlines temporarily shifts service from Miami in Florida to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mr Jones said that Charlotte was a better hub for travellers coming from across the United States and Miami was a better destination for international transfers.
He added: “We would like to have them both, but if this is an either-or situation, Charlotte is the winner in visitor travel.”
Mr Jones said service to Miami was expected to resume this summer, but airlines had shown they were prepared to change schedules at short notice if required.
He admitted that Miami may be a more popular destination for Bermuda travellers, but that the Charlotte route could prove more profitable for the airline.
Mr Jones said: “If you are an airline and you are looking at the markets, you are going to think you can get more travellers out of the country of 300 million people than the country that has 65,000.
“And keep in mind that Miami is not going away forever.”
He added the BTA had also turned its attention to the “Golden Boomer” market of travellers over the age of 50 and multigenerational families.
Mr Jones said: “We kind of have to reprioritise this audience because they are the most likely to be vaccinated first.
“We believe Bermuda presents the opportunity they are looking for.”
He highlighted the success of the “work from Bermuda” initiative and sports tourism and said the BTA would continue to promote sports events to put the spotlight on the island.
Mr Jones said a task force had been set up to improve the system for groups interested in bringing sports events to the island.
He added that plans to highlight the island as a wedding destination and brand Bermuda as the “I Do” island for couples would benefit a range of island service providers.
He said many couples had pushed back their wedding dates because they did not want to marry without their families present.
Mr Jones added: “Whether or not people are vaccinated, we have the testing procedures that greatly reduce the risk that someone spreads the virus at their wedding.”
He predicted: “By October we could be back to 75 per cent of the hotel inventory that we had pre-Covid.
“That’s the surest way to bring back jobs.”
Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport, said he hoped to improve travel links to the Azores and the Caribbean.
He added people were keen to see improved services and they could fit into the National Tourism Plan.
Mr Scott said: “When you start looking at air service into a new destination, that provides us with the opportunity to get new visitors and those visitors dovetail with the National Tourism Plan.”
He added that “major cruise brands” were considering Bermuda as a potential hub.
Mr Scott said: “This would allow us to have visitors on our shores in the short term.
“It could longer term turn our air arrivals becoming our cruise visitors and our cruise visitors becoming our air arrivals.”
Brad DiFiore, the managing director of Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting, said the international aviation market had been “crushed” by Covid-19 and was still down about 70 per cent.
He added that Bermuda travel had been particularly hard hit because of the timing of the pandemic and the island’s seasonal tourism industry.
Mr DiFiore said: “Bermuda was the only market in the competitive set to really close down completely early in the pandemic, so it suffered significantly during that period.
“Summer, there was not much going on and we have been in the off-peak period ever since.”
He said that he was confident the island would have enough flights to meet demand this summer – and that airlines could increase capacity if needed.
Mr DiFiore said: “If they see that capacity being filled up with advanced bookings, they will be able to add capacity to the market relatively quickly.
“Airline seats will come back when the visitors are willing to come back.“
Erin Smith, the BTA chief information officer, said that no cruises are scheduled until May and cruise lines would operate with reduced capacity when service resumed.
But she said the cruise lines had reported strong booking numbers for the second half of the year.
Laura Purroy of Hotelco, the firm behind the development of the St Regis Hotel in St George’s, said news about the project will be unveiled next week – including the name of the hotel’s redesigned golf course.
David Burt, the Premier and the Minister of Tourism, said he was bullish about this year’s tourist season.
He highlighted a rapid increase in vaccination rates in Bermuda and in the island’s gateway areas and said the Government would make vaccination of frontline tourism workers a priority.
Mr Burt added: “Bermuda cannot live in a public health emergency for ever, an the Government is determined we will not live in a public health emergency for ever.”