Stephen Todd, CEO, Bermuda Hotel Association

Local hoteliers faced a dismal start of the New Year after a challenging year impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic, with less than 20 air visitor arrivals daily throughout the month of January 2021.

In a follow up interview with Bermuda Real, Bermuda Hotel Association (BTA) CEO, Stephen Todd said when you spread that across the board, “that’s extremely slim pickings” when it comes down to placing heads in beds” this season.

“In January we were only seeing 15 visitors per day who were arriving on incoming flights – that’s an horrendous number in terms of what we would’ve liked to have seen,” said Mr Todd.

“That’s extremely slim pickings – recognising that’s also indicative of the challenges that our major trading partners are seeing in the US, Canada and the UK and we’re looking to build on that number.”

While noting that “this time of the year, historically has been slow for us”, he said: “The pandemic hasn’t helped.”

“Bear in mind that if our trading partners are encouraging their local populace not to travel, and with Bermuda’s level being stated by the CDC as Level 4 – that did not help circumstances either.

“Even though we have one of the best and safest, if not the safest international destination it hurts us when you think in terms of us relying on incoming foreign exchange revenue and our ability to attract and also maintain our domestic funding,” he added.

Asked what the projections leading up to the spring and summer season look like, he said they are “starting to gradually move and trending upward”.

But he said: “It’s going to be a very slow curve for us to build on.

“We’re obviously hopeful that as we move through this calendar year into the spring and summer months that we’ll start seeing increased air arrivals and leisure visitors increasing exponentially.

“Of course that’s going to be very reliant on how successful our main trading partners are with vaccinations and getting the larger percentage of their populace vaccinated and interested in travelling again – international travel.”

Asked how the BHA’s members faring after a challenging year, he said the road ahead is still “challenging”, although there has been a silver lining within the dark clouds looming over Bermuda’s beleaguered tourism industry.

“We have to say that with the support that we have received from the local populace, staycations have proven to be extremely popular for the duration and really the entirety of 2020 and going into this year,” he said.

“This past weekend being ‘Valentine’s Sweetheart’ weekend, a number of people took advantage of staycations and that’s helped us to maintain employment as well as to keep properties open.”

But when asked how likely is it to see an influx of visitors from areas where million of people are out of work in the US, where the bulk of our visitors come from, the projections are low.

“We’re projecting our growth to be probably lower double digit from a percentage standpoint,” said Mr Todd.

“Key to us, is obviously improving overall visitor arrivals by year and also an increase in overall occupancy and length of stay.”

On that note he said: “We have benefitted somewhat by having our visitors stay for longer periods which makes sense. Why would you go through the requirement to have a 72-hour negative test, an arrival test and then be required to do a day 4, day 8 and day 14 negative test criteria here on island, if you’re not going to stay for a reasonable period of time.

“Coming for a weekend, coming for a three, four or five day visit, isn’t practical if you’re going to through all of those protocols – those health protocols,” he added.

Whether or not anything attached to the challenges posed by this global pandemic will change any time soon, depends on a lot of variables.

“We believe we’re going to see some gradual movement towards that, but so much of that is reliant on what happens in the United States, Canada and the UK, with their ability to get their resident population vaccinated, to have that second vaccination and to build up their immunities.

“And of course, one’s ability from an economic standpoint to have available funds to spend for an international visit or trip.”

The “prolonged and decimating” effect of this global pandemic on Bermuda’s economy pointed up in the Bermuda Tourism Authority’s End-of-Year Report, was expected – it was like a report card that no one wanted to read, he said.

“It was obvious to us given the state of the global industry and of course the timely decisions the Government had to make in closing our main gateway, reducing the impact of the likelihood of spread the COVID-19 virus locally.

“We knew that it was going to have a knock on effect on all industry sectors.”

In terms of air arrivals, he said: “We have flights everyday but bear in mind with the closing of our main gateways and I should say our trading partners in the US, Canada and the UK we’ve a significant reduction in daily flights.

“For the most part, the majority of the flights now concentrated between Thursdays and Sundays of each week with the exception of those private jets that may be coming in from time to time.”

Asked how all of this will pan out by the end of 2021, he said: “It’s still too early to say.

“Again, so much of that is out of our ability to control and to influence. But we will continue to do the best we can under the circumstances.”

As it stands now, he said we’re really left at the will of this pandemic.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, none of us do in terms of being able to predict that,” Mr Todd said.

“So much of this process is outside of our immediate control, but I think if we continue along the lines of ensuring that we follow – all of us adhere to the health protocols, we market strategically, we get the message out that Bermuda is an extremely safe destination to travel to and we’ll do our part – there’s no reason not to be optimistic that we will see improvements down the road.”

  • We’ll take a look at the BHA view on other pressing tourism related issues in Part 2 of this report…stay tuned…