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BTA positive despite hurricane confusion

  • Spreading the word: BTA CEO Kevin Dallas is working hard to inform potential tourists island is open to business (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Confusion over hurricanes affected Bermuda’s tourism industry in September, even though storms missed the island itself.

While the Bermuda Tourism Authority said the island recorded its seventh consecutive quarter of growth, year-on-year air arrivals fell slightly for the month.

Kevin Dallas, the BTA chief executive, said hotel bookings had been up 12 per cent at the start of September, but a rash of cancellations came as hurricanes battered the Caribbean.

He said extensive news coverage about the storms, with several outlets confusing Bermuda and disaster-struck Barbuda, inspired some visitors to cancel their Bermuda trips.

Mr Dallas said: “I think just about everyone in Bermuda woke up at some point in September to a message asking if they are all right. That’s because we had The New York Times, the BBC and NBC News all mix up Bermuda and Barbuda.

“The ramifications of that are pretty quick and immediate; people cancelled. We also saw Bermuda being put in the storm path by the National Weather Centre in the US consistently.

“Interestingly, when we look at

September of this year, when we were not hit by a hurricane and compare it to October of last year when we were, we saw more cancellations this September because of the media confusion.”

Mr Dallas said ten flights and five cruise visits were cancelled because of hurricanes in September, but the island is expected to see three additional cruise visits before the end of the year.

And while air arrivals fell 4 per cent in the month, hotel occupancy was actually up by 1 per cent year on year.

Mr Dallas added that the BTA has been working to spread the word that the island is open for business.

He said: “We are now on the offence to try to capture displaced business, taking both leisure travel and group travel that would have gone to the Caribbean and redirecting them to Bermuda instead.”

Despite a challenging September, air arrivals and visitor spending were both up in the quarter, marking seven consecutive quarters of growth.

Air arrivals were up by 6 per cent year on year, while visitor spending for air arrivals rose by 15 per cent.

In the first three quarters of the year, Mr Dallas said air visitors have spent an estimated $222.3 million on the island — more than the entirety of 2015 or 2016. Mr Dallas said the increase in visitor numbers is largely due to a rise in younger travellers, with 90 per cent of the growth coming from visitors under the age of 45.

Mr Dallas said: “We were very focused on attracting a younger, more experiential, adventure-seeking visitor.

“We are really seeing those results continue. It’s fantastic to see that they continue to come.”

Hotels also saw a boost in the quarter, with hotel occupancy up 4 per cent year on year and revenue per room up 11 per cent. Mr Dallas said: “The third quarter, as our busiest quarter, is the one in which the hotels are always closest to their theoretical maximum.

“In 2017, for the quarter, hotel occupancy was at 79 per cent, which is up 4 per cent from last year. If you look back at 2015, hotels were only at 67 per cent. We are now in strongly profitable territory for the quarter, which is fantastic to see.”

Mr Dallas said advanced bookings for the fourth quarter are looking strong, saying the island will host numerous conferences this month.

He also highlighted a busy calendar of sailing events next year, along with the ITU World Triathlon Bermuda, which is expected to attract 1,200 visitors to Bermuda’s shores.

Mr Dallas said: “The courses have been approved and will be published imminently. It took a little while to get all the stakeholders aligned, but I am really excited that we now have an approved route for both the elite race and the amateur race, which will provide a spectacular setting for those races.”