Scott says friends and family visits can fill tourism gap
Friends and relatives visiting Bermuda residents could help to support airlift before the island returns to its full complement of hotel rooms, the Minister of Transport said.
Lawrence Scott agreed with aviation and tourism industry leaders about the importance of hotel room inventory for boosting air capacity, but he believed that travellers staying with family could play a part during a transitional period.
He added that a Bermuda-based airline could be in place and helping to fill service gaps by the end of the year.
Mr Scott said: “With our legacy carriers, Bermuda represents one tenth of 1 per cent of the total seat capacity that they carry.
“If an airline is basing priority on the amount of seat capacity that they have to utilise to service your destination, one-tenth of 1 per cent is not much at all.
“However, if you have an airline based here in Bermuda, that number flips 180 degrees to 99.9 per cent of their seat capacity is determined on Bermudian travel trends.”
Mr Scott highlighted that flights to the Azores “spoke to and connected with Bermudians on a cultural level”.
He added that the Caribbean represented a similar cultural link.
The minister said: “When you focus on visiting friends and relatives, you can increase visitor arrivals without having to increase hotel bed inventory.”
Mr Scott said that an analysis of the economic impact of Covid-19, carried out by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation, showed that intra-Caribbean travel would rebound faster than any other segment of the industry.
He added: “If Bermuda can connect itself to the Caribbean, it can benefit from both worlds — intra-Caribbean travel but also our close relationship with the United States.
“Us having pre-clearance could be considered intra-North American, or at least East Coast, and so we can position ourselves to benefit from that projected, estimated, almost explosive rebound of air travel in these two core markets.”
Mr Scott explained: “Last year, what we saw, unfortunately, was what we predicted — reduction in frequency and even a temporary exit from the market … we saw the official seasonality of the Boston route.”
He said the ministry created an environment where Bermuda’s regulatory reputation could be leveraged to attract new airlines to the island — both to the aircraft registry and to base themselves on the island.
Mr Scott added: “We have three airlines that the ministry is aware of that have shown an interest.
“Out of those three airlines, two have started the application process for an Air Operator Certificate.”
Canadian-based aerospace company Flyht said that it signed an agreement for Coral Jet to use its intelligence programmes and added that the airline would serve the Caribbean, United States and Canada.
Tariq Lynch-Wade, the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority director of operations, said that two applicants were going through the process to become Air Operator Certificate holders.
He added: “Freedom II Bermuda Limited is in the demonstration and inspection phase — Phase 4 — and is aiming to be operational in a few weeks.
"Coral Jet is in the document evaluation phase — Phase 3 — and is aiming to be operational by the end of the year based on the current pace.“
Mr Lynch-Wade said that Freedom II Bermuda was not expected to fly into and out of the island.
He added last week: “Coral Jet is the only applicant that has expressly declared its interest in providing service to the island.
“The length of time each application takes before being issued an AOC varies based on the scope of operation and the ability of the company to demonstrate compliance to us as the aviation authority.
“On average, most applications will exceed 120 days due to the complexity of the respective operation.”
Mr Scott said: “The ministry is cautiously optimistic that we will see an entrance into the Bermuda market that will help maintain connectivity to our core gateway cities year-round.”
He added that Bermudian-based airlines would lead to job creation and economic development.
The minister highlighted that the interested airlines were privately owned companies with no government affiliation, but from a business perspective they would be guided by Bermudian travel trends, which meant that they would help to “serve the underserved” — already a focus of the transport ministry.
Mr Scott was asked by The Royal Gazette about comments from the Bermuda Airport Authority, Skyport and Bermuda Tourism Authority, which highlighted the interrelationship between hotel room inventory and airlift.
When the Fairmont Southampton closed for renovations in October 2020 — at the time thought to be for 18 months — the island lost 25 per cent of its total hotel guest rooms, which had been responsible for up to 30 per cent of air visitors to Bermuda.
Karim Alibhai, the founder and principal of resort owners Gencom, said in April that the redevelopment project would take up to 17 months, with an ideal start date of between June and August this year.
Mr Scott said he was “waiting with bated breath” and was “fully supportive” of the Fairmont Southampton reopening.
He told The Royal Gazette: “The ministry agrees wholeheartedly that hotel inventory is the key.”
The minister added: “Airlines are going to sit there and say, ‘If I bring in these people, I want to make sure that you have somewhere for them to stay’, and this is where hotel development becomes very important.
“I echo BTA, BAA and Skyport in hotel development but the ministry looks at this from a holistic and also realistic point of view, saying what is the likelihood that we are going to get hotel development in the next six months? What is the likelihood that we’re going to get another hotel development in the next year?
“So as a transition strategy we are saying, temporarily diversify, let’s look at visiting friends and relatives.”
He said: “Air visitors support our economy while cruise visitors financially support Government.
“So us having friends and relatives come in — we take them out to dinner, we take them out to the beach, we take them out to bars and drinks — and so therefore you are able to increase your visitor arrival, continue to have that economic stimulus from the air visitor without having to necessarily increase your hotel bed inventory.”