Simmons: island’s air tourism still flagging

Published Feb 22, 2017 at 4:01 pm (Updated Feb 22, 2017 at 6:11 pm)

  • Jamahl Simmons, the Shadow Minister of Tourism (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

    Jamahl Simmons, the Shadow Minister of Tourism (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The Bermuda Tourism Authority’s efforts to claw back air arrivals for Bermuda have yet to match the high enjoyed under the Progressive Labour Party government, according to Jamahl Simmons, the Shadow Minister of Tourism.

It drew a swift response from Senator Michael Fahy, the tourism minister, who said that the Opposition “particular just can’t help themselves but try and find negativity in what is actually incredibly positive news on tourism from the Bermuda Tourism Authority” — hitting back that there were “major indications that Bermuda’s tourism renaissance is now upon us”.

At a press conference this afternoon in the Progressive Labour Party headquarters at Alaska Hall, Mr Simmons pointed out that the BTA deserved congratulations for “modernising tourism” and drawing a “younger, more cosmopolitan” demographic to the island.

“The latest uptick is encouraging — but all that is happening is merely a return to just average,” the Sandys South MP said.

Leisure air arrivals increased by 17 per cent to the highest since 2007, according to the BTA.

However, Mr Simmons said: “Over the four-year period prior to 2012, the Department of Tourism under the PLP Government averaged 242,000 air arrivals a year. Over a similar period, the BTA have not been able to match the Department of Tourism highs in air arrivals or total arrivals, which were 652,000 total and 264,000 air arrivals. Additionally, the pre-recession period from 2005 to 2008 had a high of 305,000 air arrivals and 660,000 total arrivals under the PLP Government. The BTA’s high of 245,000 air and 642,000 total falls short.”

He added: “This is not just about numbers of air arrivals being up or down — growth in the tourism sector should bring jobs.”

He conceded that the One Bermuda Alliance had inherited “average performing” tourism, which is now at a 48 to 49-year low.

Other jurisdictions to the south are reaping “record numbers”, Mr Simmons said, calling for a stronger marketing push.

The Opposition has frequently criticised the marketing budget for the BTA, which is considerably lower than that of its predecessor, the Department of Tourism.

“We have to get our game out there and keep pushing to stay relevant,” he added, saying that while the upcoming America’s Cup stood to bring in a surge of visitors, “that audience is not necessarily the audience we are looking for in the long term” — although the island was “ideally located” to capitalise on the super yacht market.

“If the America’s Cup can stimulate that, that’s a good thing.”

Low-spending cruise visitors comprise the bulk of visitors at present, and Mr Simmons acknowledged that “we have to break away from that — one thing the PLP did when the numbers started falling was to fill the void with that”.

Mr Fahy’s response, meanwhile, accused the Opposition of “convenient amnesia”.

His statement continues with a list of highlights, as follows:

• There is increased air capacity out of key gateway cities and a massive rise in visitors under 45 years of age;

• This spring will see the magnificence of 17 of the tall ships from ten different countries during the last week of May and the first week of June, spending time in port in St George’s and in Hamilton;

• In addition to the America’s Cup we will also host some 75 to 100 super yachts this summer, bringing some of the finest watercraft in the world to the island at one time;

• We have created an environment which has generated substantial interest in funding for hotel infrastructure, something we hadn’t seen in three decades;

• The BTA has consolidated an upsurge in air arrivals and cruise passengers in 2016 after years of declines;

• This year will see a significant cruise presence back to Hamilton of 25 visits and up to 14 visits in St George’s until 2022;

• The East End will also benefit from the NCL Tender service that will shuttle NCL passengers between Dockyard and the old town and the Millennium ferry for non NCL service;

• The Pink Beach Hotel redevelopment, which has opened under its new name “The Loren” marks the first new build for hotel development in several years;

• A Ritz-Carlton Hotel development is on its way at Morgan’s Point; a St. Regis in St. George’s; renovations at Elbow Beach Hotel and the Surf Side Beach Club and the Rosewood at Tucker’s Point, and, guest room expansion at Coco Reef Hotel;

• The Government has invested substantial sums in St George’s and has given the Corporation of St. George a bright future in protecting its Unesco World Heritage status as I spoke about on the Motion to Adjourn in the Senate today.

“The Ministry supports the work of the BTA wholeheartedly. There is much work going on behind the scenes by the Ministry in attracting new airlift to Bermuda as was demonstrated by Jet Blue’s recent increases. The BTA has won major awards for its work internationally and will continue to flourish and the tourism sector and related jobs will expand as a result. The Opposition PLP can keep looking in the rear-view mirror and give half-baked ideas or rely on the expertise at the BTA and other tourism partners. We are proud of the work being done and will continue unreservedly along with the BTA to grow this important sector for all Bermudians.”

In addition, a BTA spokesman issued the following:

“We appreciate the Shadow Minister’s kind words about our team’s hard work and for his acknowledgement of the consistently strong industry performance last year which resulted in 12 consecutive months of leisure air arrival growth. The Bermuda Tourism Authority focuses primarily on leisure air arrivals because growing vacationers to Bermuda who arrive by air is the central mission of our organisation. It’s the metric by which the country, our Board and our community measures our performance. That’s why we are so pleased to report 2016 was the highest volume or vacation air arrivals since 2007.

“While the BTA has a secondary responsibility to positively impact visitors who come here for business or to visit friends and family, it would be irresponsible, and perhaps even disingenuous, to take full credit for those visitors. When an overseas business person schedules a meeting in Bermuda or a relative comes for a family member’s birthday, that has little to do with the marketing efforts of the BTA.”

The BTA will continue to focus on growing leisure air arrivals and group business to Bermuda because it’s what the thousands of people working in our tourism industry need us to do.”

To read the full Opposition statement with figures provided, click on the PDF documents under ‘Related Media’