2015 YEAR IN REVIEW
Sometimes I am asked to explain what the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA) has accomplished since its inception in April of 2014. It’s a fair question. However, what the questioner is usually looking for is blockbuster statistics. It’s tough to deliver those kinds of numbers because so much of our progress to date is strategic – with a payoff that comes later. After all, it’s very difficult to arrest a multi-year decline in just two or three years.
The 2015 changes we executed in group travel, for example, are seismic, but it will take a while before those strategic moves actually show up in statistical reports.
An example of the time lag between group business proposals and when the group actually arrives in Bermuda.
With the time it takes to secure group travel in mind, the Board is extremely pleased with the progress the BTA team has made retraining the market’s attention on the importance of group travel. In fact, this travel segment cannot be overstated. It is critically important, not only because it sells high volumes of room nights, but because it keeps employment levels high in the hotel sector. At more than 2,800 workers, the hotel sector is the single biggest employer in the tourism industry and clearly has a real impact on the lives of many Bermudians.
As 2015 came to a close, the largest hotel on the Island, Fairmont Southampton, was elated to report that, as a result of strong group travel on the books, it would not lay off any of its workers for January and February of 2016. That’s a tremendous accomplishment for an industry fighting hard to stave off a seasonality challenge that sees occupancy numbers dip in the wintertime. It’s also a big win for a great many Bermudian families who have rent, power and medical bills that don’t stop in the tourism’s shoulder season. That’s why the BTA wants to break the back of seasonality and achieve full employment in the tourism industry year-round, for all stakeholders and the people they employ.
It’s clear to us that without a solid foundation of group travel Bermuda tourism will not grow. That’s why our Chief of Sales & Marketing, Victoria Isley, restructured the way the BTA pursues group travel and reorganised her staff of business development managers. Instead of those managers pursuing leads based on geography, as was the case before, they now pursue leads based upon areas of expertise. One person is responsible for managing each of the main group travel categories Bermuda attracts: (1) Corporate/Incentive; (2) Speciality Association, (3) Golf & Sport and (4) Social Events like destination weddings, family reunions or bachelorette parties. Then, when group travellers come to Bermuda, we ask them to report on the Visitors’ Arrivals Card which group travel category best describes their visit. This is how we introduced another level of accountability to the performance of the business development managers. In 2015, business development managers generated $10.6 million in business for the local tourism industry and 25,000 room nights. That’s a fantastic start to a new system and we’re optimistic about more impressive results in the years ahead.
The BTA wants to break the back of seasonality and achieve full employment in the tourism industry year-round, for all stakeholders and the people they employ.
We also thought it was important in 2015 to go beyond the industry and educate the general public about group travel. In October, COO Karla Lacey and her Operations team rolled out the Bring It Home campaign. This campaign defines the importance of group travel to the overall local economy, particularly to local small businesses. It also empowers everyday residents to bring group business home to Bermuda, and then holds them up as community heroes when they’re successful.
When we are replicating this level of performance more frequently, we will grow our tourism industry, we will attract new hotel developments, we will see more airlift, we will create more jobs.
Ultimately, we want an army of people who love Bermuda to see their passion as an economic opportunity for the country.
In my mind, the economic opportunity that group travel presents was best exemplified in October of this year. The list of group events in that month was impressive: Young President Organisation Regional Conference, Argo Gold Cup, Round the Sound Swim, Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, Bermuda Tattoo, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Nike Golf PGA of Canada Team Championship. Some of that activity was inspired or financially supported by the BTA and some of it was not, but all together it epitomises what a strong foundation of group travel looks like, it illustrates what success looks like. And it’s no surprise that October air arrivals, hotel occupancy and tourism-related retail sales were all through the roof in that month. When we are replicating this level of performance more frequently, we will grow our tourism industry, we will attract new hotel developments, we will see more airlift, we will create more jobs.
With two years now under our belts I hope it’s easier for our stakeholders to see how all the dots connect. I hope they can better understand how a sound, sustainable strategy ultimately leads to strong statistics and lasting success.
Chairman of the Board