BTA chief: tourism coming back after pandemic damage
Tourism figures are moving in the right direction despite the massive damage inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the head of the Bermuda Tourism Authority said today.
Charles Jeffers II, the BTA CEO, said that a global surge in Covid-19 cases had created problems for the industry, but he was optimistic about the latest statistics.
Mr Jeffers added: “We have seen hotels that are reporting near 100 per cent occupancy, if not 100 per cent occupancy – not all hotels are at that level, but we do have some that are.
“Although our testing regime has been criticised, I think we are seeing that what we have done is allowing us to continue our growth, unlike other jurisdictions that are going back into curfew and lockdowns.”
Mr Jeffers added that the pandemic had also sent shock waves through the airline industry, which may slow its ability to bounce back to pre-Covid service levels.
He highlighted that Delta Air Lines had to retire several aircraft in the last year and the pandemic had limited its ability to bring new planes into its fleet.
Mr Jeffers said: “We don’t know when their Boston flight will be able to resume because of the shortage of planes that they have.”
But he said work to open up services to new destinations was still under way.
Mr Jeffers said the BTA would soon announce an agreement with a new firm to represent the authority in the UK – and that the company had strong connections throughout Europe.
He added: “We are excited by the opportunities. We see the whole world as potential areas of growth.
“We are obviously not going to ignore the US, Canada and the UK, but we believe that, with flights like the service to the Azores and other countries around the world, we can position ourselves to take advantage of these opportunities.
“None of us knew what that flight to the Azores was going to give us and I think everyone was pleasantly surprised with how well it has done.”
Mr Jeffers said the superyacht figures were particularly promising given travel and other restrictions since the pandemic hit.
Bermuda was only returned to the UK’s green list this summer and direct flights to Canada just restarted this month.
Mr Jeffers admitted that some had criticised the island’s strict travel restrictions, but he insisted that a strict approach was the best for the island in the long run.
He said. “One of the jobs of the Government is to keep the economy going and we cannot afford another lockdown.”
Mr Jeffers said that the BTA’s efforts to boost tourism through sports should bear more fruit in the autumn as the island hosts the World Triathlon Championship, the Bermuda Black Golf Summit and the PGA Tour Bermuda Championship.
He promised more announcements on plans to boost tourism in the next year and beyond would be made before the end of the month.
Mr Jeffers said the BTA’s sales team continued to work to promote the island as a destination for group travel.
He added that although the closure of the Fairmont Southampton for renovations had removed some event space, other hotels were in a position to capitalise.
Mr Jeffers said: “There are a lot of groups in the northeast and the mid-west that are looking for locations.
“They’re not necessarily looking for sun and fun, but they want weather better than what they are coming from.”
Mr Jeffers, who was appointed to his post in April, admitted the pandemic had come as a major challenge.
He said: “There is nothing quite like starting a new job in a different country in the middle of a pandemic.
“I have had to manage a team and get to know a team that has been working remotely. My first few days in the office I was the only one there.
“I got to know everyone on video conferences, but it has been nice to now get to see people, shake their hands and share cheesecake with other team members.”
Mr Jeffers added that his first meetings with industry figures had also been on a remote basis – but the process went faster than it would have if he had to travel to meet them all in person.
He said: “It has been a rough year-and-a-half. I think everyone recognises that this is not unique to Bermuda, but one of the things I’m hearing is that everyone recognises is that collaboration is going to be key.
“We cannot operate in our silos as we have in the past.”
Mr Jeffers said increased tourism would mean more work for Bermudians, but that many tourism-related businesses were already having a hard time finding staff.
He said the BTA was working with other bodies such as Bermuda College to create training opportunities, but more work had to be done to encourage Bermudians into the sector.
Mr Jeffers added: “The first thing we need to change is the mindset from it being a job to it being more of a career – a career where people come in and are learning the industry that will give them opportunities for years to come.
“We keep saying jobs, but it is careers that we should be offering as that will make it more attractive to young people.”