This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Bill Hanbury, CEO of the newly created Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA).
Hanbury shares his vision for Bermuda Tourism, which is now under the management of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, an independent, private, tourism enterprise focused on revitalizing Bermuda’s tourism industry, stimulating the economy, creating a welcoming environment for hospitality investment and restoring Bermuda to a world-class tourism destination.
“Our tourism destiny is directly tied to the United States, Canada and the UK. Over 90% of our visitors arrive on our shores from these locations. So our top priority, at this point in our economic revival, is to better link to these dynamic markets. We are selling to audiences well within our reach and know our product. We need to get on their “consideration list” again.”
– Bill Hanbury, CEO, Bermuda Tourism Authority
When one thinks of Bermuda, pink sandy beaches, long shorts and the legendary Devil’s Triangle come to mind. What are the attractions that you are most proud of?
Yes, we are well known for those fabulous beaches, colorful Bermuda shorts and the Triangle legends, but Bermuda is “so much more”. Much of Bermuda’s attractiveness is based on our nautical and marine resources and history. From scuba diving and deep-sea fishing to sailing and power boating, if you’re in Bermuda the sea touches everything. And because of our strategic position in the Atlantic Ocean we have a nautical history of wrecks, fortifications, cannons, pirates and buccaneers that spans over 400 years.
It’s been about 6 months since Bermuda tourism completed its transition from a government run department to a privatized tourism authority. What are some challenges the new tourism board is facing? What are some of the key changes tourists should know about?
The biggest challenge we face is convincing the Tourism Authority’s stakeholders, both on and off the island, that marketing tactics have to be executed differently than they have in the past. Because of unfavorable economic conditions starting post-9/11 and continuing into the extended Great Recession, Bermuda lost ground to both Caribbean and emerging destinations in the Middle East and Pacific Rim. Through this difficult time, Bermuda failed to embrace the new digital channels that have transformed tourism marketing globally. Tourists will now notice that Bermuda is shifting to the internet to provide better information and travel offerings which are more in line with market expectations.
Additionally, our product offering has not kept pace with what some would call “experiential” tourism, where guests don’t want a “curated” travel experience, but rather they need to touch, feel, see, smell and taste the destination in their own way and on their own timeframe. That’s actually where you’ll also see the big changes. We want to give visitors more information before they arrive and once they’re on the island so they can experience Bermuda in a more adventuresome way. And because of our low crime, across–island accessibility features and cleanliness the Bermuda tourism product bodes well in this new era. It’s what the 21st Century tourism audience demands and it’s what Bermuda intends to offer.
Why do people want to visit Bermuda? What is the island’s biggest draw today?
The number one draw has always been our pristine beaches and moderate weather. We have dozens of beaches to visit while on Bermuda. Two of my favorites are Horseshoe Bay Beach and Sea Glass Beach. Horseshoe is one of the premiere beaches in the world. Wide, pink sands, clean and majestic…any trip to Bermuda necessitates a visit to one of the world’s most beloved beaches. It continually ranks among the World’s Top Ten on just about everyone’s list.
Sea Glass Beach, is certainly not as well-known as Horseshoe, but for snorkelers it’s a slice of paradise. The beach is home to bits-and-pieces of centuries of marine history. Because of the ocean topography and tides, Sea Glass Beach is constantly churning-up pieces of glass, pottery, china and other interesting fragments of our nautical past that arrive near the shore from wrecks and age-old “garbage” thrown overboard by crews of former visiting vessels.
Accessibility is also a key factor as to why people visit Bermuda as we’re less than a two hour flight from many East Coast cities (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore/Washington, Charlotte and Atlanta). Americans also clear U.S. customs before arriving back home which is a big draw.
For decades, Bermuda was known as a supreme destination for some of the world’s elite, and home to wealthy expats. Is that changing as economic power from the East grows?Are you facing competition from other destinations that are viewed as more trendy?
Bermuda now has many international businesses on our shores that have close ties to the East. We welcome these connections. However, our tourism destiny is directly tied to the United States, Canada and the UK. Over 90% of our visitors arrive on our shores from these locations. So our top priority, at this point in our economic revival, is to better link to these dynamic markets. We are selling to audiences well within our reach and know our product. We need to get on their “consideration list” again.
Bermuda wants to be known as an upscale luxury destination and we fully intend to compete with the elite upscale destinations in the world. Remember, we still have all those beaches, golf courses, historic sites and nautical assets that propelled us onto the list of the world’s top destinations in the 60s, 70s and 80s. We intend to return to that position in the global marketplace.
Is there a time of year that is more desirable to visit Bermuda? Are there unique attractions and events travelers can enjoy in every season? How do hurricanes and severe storms impact visitation?
Bermuda truly is a year-round destination with short, daily nonstop flights from various cities in the US and Canada.There is no off-season in Bermuda. The weather is more than acceptable year-round…in the mid-80s in August and the mid-60s in February. I moved here from Upstate New York this past January. We left three-feet of snow in our front yard with below-zero temperatures. We arrived in Bermuda and for 30 days in a row the temperature rose to plus 65 degrees. January through April are great times for: golf, scuba, arts and culture, visiting forts, plus beach walks during the day and beach fires at night.
I’m also compelled to mention the Bermuda Festival which is now in its 40th year and is one of our premier cultural events. The Festival presents a culturally diverse collection of illustrious performing artists from around the world during a four weeks run starting in mid-January. The Festival rivals some of the finest artistic offering of any destination. This year some of the artists include: Yo-Yo Ma, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Ellis Marsalis, the English Chamber Orchestra and China Circus.
How would you describe the people of Bermuda? What are some of the culturally and historically significant places and things visitors should experience?
Bermuda has been known for decades as a nation of hospitable people. In fact, in survey after survey, one of our greatest tourism assets is our emphasis on friendliness and service. It’s in the country’s DNA and every resident is well aware of the economic value of tourism, so there is a continuing emphasis on this asset. The new Bermuda Tourism Authority intends to build on this commitment to quality customer service as we work with the hospitality industry and the public education system on-island implementing an array of new education and training initiatives.
We like to call it: “Proper Fun”, this wonderful synthesis of British culture and island vibe that best describes the Bermuda experience. So in one day you can visit a British Fort, have high tea in the afternoon, have a quite dinner of authentic island fare and then dance the night away to Calypso music on the beach.
What’s the best and most economical way to get around Bermuda? How safe are those scooters you see everywhere?
We have a wonderful fleet of service-oriented taxi drivers who know the island’s history and its most interesting attractions like the back of their hand. I consider them an important part of our Island’s hospitality equation.
You can’t miss a ride on our highly efficient ferry service. No visit to Bermuda would be complete without a ferry trip to Dockyards on the Hamilton Ferry. You’ll navigate through some of the finest yachting and sailing waters in the world on your way to a former British naval base that to this day reflects the majesty of the Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th century. It’s a fun and affordable way to explore the island and mingle with the local community; and the views can be stunning.
As for scooters, many of our visitors totally enjoy the freedom that comes with this mode of transportation. However, if you haven’t had much experience on a motor bike or driving on the left side of the road, I would leave it to the safety of taxis and the ferry. No reason to spoil a wonderful vacation on our island paradise.
Where do you recommend visitors seek accommodations? What are some options on the luxury side, middle of the road and cheap deals, particularly for younger travelers and students?
With outstanding four-star resorts and solid three-star hotels, Bermuda has an extensive range of accommodation offerings for travelers who know and appreciate quality. www.gotobermuda.com is a terrific source for finding just the right property in your price range.
For travelers on a budget, the best option is to discover our more economical lodgings, many of which are located on the properties of individual Bermudian homeowners. Bermuda Rentals, AirBnB and Home-away can provide an impressive inventory of colonies, mini-resorts, villas and individual rooms that will meet the needs of just about any traveler. This is a wonderful way to get “up-close and personal” with Bermuda’s most important tourism asset: our people!
What else is there to know about Bermuda and projects that are in the works with the BTA – how are you revitalizing the industry?
There are several hotel brands that are actively looking at Bermuda for development as our tourism economy continues to pick up speed after an extended period of decline. We believe at least three new hotel projects will be underway in 2015 with openings anticipated in 2017 and 2018. Most recent is Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are breaking ground on the new Ariel Sands Hotel Cottage Colony with approximately 85 rooms (33 cottages and 6 suites), fine dining restaurant, salt-water tidal pools, tennis courts, salon, gym and a spa. Slated to be complete Q1 of 2017. The Ariel Sands property has been in Michael Douglas’ mother’s family since the 1840s. The $85 million hotel redevelopment began last week!
Certainly, the new gambling legislation that will allow gaming on certain resort properties should assure these project go forward in an expeditious manner. There are also a number of significant existing hotel renovations and developments underway totaling over $100 million.
Bermuda is one of the final two destinations with the opportunity to host the 35th America’s World Cup, the world’s most prestigious sailing competition, in 2017. A decision on the host location is expected before the end of the year.
Local development and design firms are working on the feasibility of transforming Dockyard’s Victualling Yard into an all-weather entertainment venue. The initial design plans feature a contemporary roof design, year-round alfresco dining and a large event space as well as food and beverage, retailers and a condo hotel.
Sections of the historic Railway Trail continue to be developed and a critical footbridge is expected to open in December 2014. Recently a handful of sites along the trail, including a historic railway building, that were closed for the last 30 years have been opened to the public for mixed recreational use such as hiking and biking.