Airlift increasing to near pre-pandemic levels in 2024
Airlift to the island is expected to continue to bounce back next year, although it is not yet forecast to reach pre-pandemic levels.
Attendees at the 2023 BTA Tourism Summit were told yesterday that inbound air capacity was expected to reach 516,897 seats in 2024, approximately 89 per cent of 2019 capacity.
However, the summit heard that hotel capacity was expected to remain at about 75 per cent of 2019 levels with ground yet to be broken at the Fairmont Southampton.
Lester Nelson, the chief executive of the Bermuda Airport Authority, said it was in regular communications with airlines about further bolstering airlift but had to consider the limits of the island’s hotel capacity.
“We all hope there will be a shovel in the ground next month, with respect to Fairmont Southampton, so then we can start looking at a real target of when it will be online,” he said.
However, he added that he was able to use outgoing travel to help ensure a steady stream of flights.
“I know this is a tourism summit and we are talking about bringing tourist to the island, but we have 63,000 or 65,000 people,” he said.
“The Government has stated it plans to increase the population, so we cannot discount the outbound travel because the local travel is more stable than the seasonal travel from April to the end of October, and it helps things like the Boston flight that we have all-year-round air service.
“The other segment, other than inbound tourists, of course, is business. That dropped off a lot from 2020. A lot of companies are using Zoom or Teams, but as we all know, nothing beats face to face, so we are hoping to continue to see an uptick in business travellers as well.”
Mr Nelson acknowledged that air service between Bermuda and Canada was insufficient but said that the authority was in communication with Air Canada in an effort to bolster airlift.
Jason Inniss, the director of airport operations at Skyport, hoped that more flights coming online would mean lower cost for air travel.
He said Skyport was forecasting at about 80 per cent of the number of travellers that were seen in 2019, noting that the island reached about 75 per cent of that figure this year.
“With the additional capacity that is coming online, we see no reason why we can’t reach 80 per cent,” he said. “That’s a conservative look at it.”
Mr Inniss had no doubt the airport could handle the growing number of travellers, noting that the bulk of passengers were travelling to or from the US and pre-clearance for US-bound passengers was limited to operating between 7am and 4pm.
“It means that after 4pm, there is an excess in capacity for flights to the Caribbean, or to Canada, which we are hoping for,” he said.
Adam Scott, the chief executive of BermudAir, described Bermuda as the “best kept secret on the face of the planet” and said more needed to be done to make people aware of the island.
“So many of my friends, colleagues or even family members, believe it or not, believe we are somewhere of the coast of Africa or elsewhere,” he said.
“We need to go out there and really sell Bermuda as a year-round destination, because it is beautiful outside. I know everybody has been saying this for a long time, but maybe now is an opportunity for us collectively to do that.”
He said there were a variety of markets that could be potential areas for expansion of the airline, highlighting Chicago and several Canadian cities, including Montreal and Halifax.
“It’s really about identifying those opportunities, looking at data, understanding where people’s origin is and where the destination is,” he said.
Mr Nelson added that additional flights between Bermuda and Europe were being discussed, noting the financial success of the British Airways service to London.
“We are hopeful,” he said. “When you have a 777 with good loads, it does open up some opportunities in terms of demand in that market.
“We are having discussions, going back to 2019 actually, with a carrier out of Europe. I will just say that.”