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Government has no plan to increase airlift, says OBA

Concern: Susan Jackson, the Shadow Minister of Transport (Photograph supplied)

The tourism industry is failing to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels because of a “misalignment” among various stakeholders, it has been claimed.

Susan Jackson, the One Bermuda Alliance spokeswoman on transport, spoke out after attending a recent meeting of travel industry groups.

The meeting was hosted by Wayne Furbert, the Minister of Transport, and Vance Campbell, the Minister of Tourism. Attendees included Craig Cannonier, the Shadow Minister of Tourism, and representatives from the Bermuda Tourism Authority, the Bermuda Hotel Association and the airport operator, Skyport.

Mr Furbert later described the behind-closed-doors meeting as “an opportunity for each organisation to share their plans and how they are working to improve air service, marketing, on-island transportation and visitor experiences”.

But according to Ms Jackson and Mr Cannonier, it exposed rifts between the Government and other stakeholders.

Ms Jackson said: “A frank and honest presentation of current airlift scenarios revealed a worrying trend for Bermuda's future tourism product.

“It's time for the Government to concede and give industry experts and stakeholders the autonomy needed so they can work together to improve our entire tourism product. There appears to be a misalignment between the Bermuda Tourism Authority, airlines and hoteliers.

“Airline service to Bermuda is highly dependent on hotel capacity. The lack of high-occupancy hotels like the Fairmont Southampton makes it difficult for airlines to justify scheduling regular flights with very few travellers.

“They're cutting important direct flights and increasing connecting flights. Boston's direct flight to Bermuda has been removed from the Bermuda run altogether with no prospects of returning in sight.”

She added: “Airlines are restructuring to improve their productivity given the low demand to fly to Bermuda. There's presently no incentive to make Bermuda a priority market. Unless Bermuda is able to increase its tourism demand, more bad news can be expected from the airline industry.”

Mr Cannonier was even more critical, accusing the Government of paying lip service to industry experts.

He said: “The sentiment that I came away with was that we keep rehashing the same things and keep going over the same issues. We know what needs to be done to improve tourism so let’s just get on with it. But this Government doesn’t seem to have a plan.

“There was a sentiment that there’s still no light at the end of the tunnel. It was just an exercise in lip service. The Government says that it is trying to get back to 2019 visitor arrival numbers but I find that very frustrating, because the numbers for 2019 arrivals was terrible.”

During the meeting Mr Furbert revealed that Bermuda was expecting about 300,000 air arrivals this year — well down on pre-pandemic averages of about 420,000.

According to Mr Cannonier, hotel representatives criticised the Bermuda Tourism Authority for making some basic marketing errors — such as promoting diving excursions during the off season when many dive shops are closed.

He claimed BTA representatives turned on the Government, accusing it of failing to provide the authority with the tools to do the job.

Mr Cannonier said: “There were some very frank exchanges. It was evident that there were some conflicts between the Government and hoteliers and the BTA. The meeting ended up going on longer than scheduled.

“But I think what it showed was that a forum like this should have been held much earlier, because clearly certain groups feel that they are not being listened to.”

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Published February 01, 2023 at 7:55 am (Updated February 01, 2023 at 7:55 am)

Government has no plan to increase airlift, says OBA

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