Photos: Courtesy of the America’s Cup

Talks are underway to boost airlift to Bermuda out of the UK with Delta, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways in anticipation of the 35th America’s Cup. And those plans include “city and sea stays” from the UK through Bermuda by way of New York City.

Bermuda Real has confirmed that new partnerships with airlines are being explored to introduce more travel options to coincide with AC35 events that start here in October 2015.

While the Department of Airport Operations is the overseer of Bermuda’s airline strategy under the Ministry of Tourism and Transport, a spokeswoman for Minister Shawn Crockwell said: “It is premature at this stage for the Minister to comment on this matter.”

But Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA) chief executive officer Bill Hanbury confirmed the BTA will play an important supporting role moving forward.

“We are dedicated to working with our partners throughout the travel chain, including our airline partners, to increase overall demand and visitation to the Island. That includes working closely with British Airways,” said Mr Hanbury.

“We are also exploring partnerships with Delta and Virgin Atlantic now that there is code-sharing between those two airlines – such as city and sea stays from the UK that would include New York City and Bermuda.

“We’re grateful to the Department of Airport Operations which has welcomed the Tourism Authority’s desire to play a supporting role in Bermuda’s overall airline strategy. Our objective on airline strategy, and all that we do, is to generate demand for travel to Bermuda which then positively impacts on spending on-island.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for British Airways said: “This is an exciting time for Bermuda and we will continue to work closely with the Bermuda Tourism Authority to promote the benefits of the Island.

“British Airways remains committed to Bermuda and is looking forward to giving new leisure travellers the chance to visit,” she added.

The anticipated uptick in air arrivals as a result of AC35 was also addressed at the BTAs inaugural Tourism Summit held at Fairmont Southampton in January.

General manager of Airport Operations Aaron Adderley told some 320 stakeholders AC35 will be a “game changer”. He described talks with the airlines servicing Bermuda over the past few years as “very difficult”. But he said AC35 will “provide a stimulus effect at the airport”.

He also confirmed that talks were already underway with airline representatives “about what sort of capacity we are going to have to put in place to support” AC35 events. He noted that convincing the airlines to boost airlift while showing “numbers that support a 20 to 30 year decline” will be challenging.

“We are going to have to convince managers that we are going to turn things around,” said Mr Adderley. “The AC is going to help us in that argument. The other thing that is going to work in our favour is the hotel developments about to take place. All those things coming together will all make our case a lot easier.”

His comments were echoed by Ross Webber, chief executive officer of the Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA). He described airlift as “hugely important”, and called for more flexibility in pricing on airfares to Bermuda.

“We need to do an awful lot more…to ensure that we have guaranteed flights and guaranteed routes to ensure our business partners know they can come back to Bermuda,” said Mr Webber. He urged stakeholders “to do an awful lot more with British Airways in particular at the back of the bus to get increased airlift”.

“The front part of the bus is fine where most of the business goes but nowadays as margins decrease you will find business travellers looking to use the back of the bus to fly to Bermuda. And the way the price structure is right now it is a deterrent, and people are not coming to Bermuda as much as they would.

“From a business perspective they are going to use Skype,” said Mr Webber. When contacted for a follow up he stressed that “getting more people here means they will have greater opportunity to effect direct investment” in Bermuda.

“Greater airlift in itself will also have a positive impact on guranteeing flight routes to the Island. If there are more and more people coming, it’s more likely the airlines will keep those routes going, which is important from a business perspective, as well as a tourism perspective,” said Mr Webber.

“It is very disruptive from a business client perspective to book a business trip to Bermuda on a certain airline on a certain date – then have that taken away and have to redo your entire schedule.

“When that happens, often people say forget about it and they don’t bother coming. That is particularly damaging when it’s people who are coming to Bermuda for the first time; the longer they put it off, the longer it will take for us to get direct investment.

“Bermuda needs to work with the airlines and marketing teams to try to get more cost-effective (i.e. cheaper) flight prices, particularly out of British Airways, so that the UK route can have more people on the plane. My suggestion is not that BA is out of money.

“Let’s say it costs $1,000 for a return trip Bermuda-UK for one person. BA gets $1,000, we get one person in Bermuda. If BA simply made it $500 and we therefore get two people to come, BA still gets $1,000 but we get another person experiencing Bermuda.

“I know there are different tipping points in regard to fuel and staffing, but realistically it costs more or less the same to fly a full plane versus an empty plane to Bermuda. (And that’s not affecting the price we charge for hotels, etc.

“I actually believe people will spend money when they’re here in Bermuda. The important thing is getting them here. A lot of people particularly from Europe, just are not coming to Bermuda because the cost of getting a BA flight is prohibitive,” said Mr Webber.

“I think if we can work together, work with the Ministry of Transport, with the Bermuda Tourism Authority, with British Airways, to at least try a more reasonable price in the economy section – and then we put some effort into promoting that more reasonable price – I would hope we could find a way to get more people here to the jurisdiction.”

Mr Webber concluded: “Nowadays, you will find more people who are doing business with Bermuda who are flying economy. BA will still find its business-class section full. But the economy section is usually pretty empty – due to steep prices.

“Surely we can do more to drop the price to get a proportionate number of extra people here, and still allow BA to run a profitable business.”

By Ceola Wilson