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Bermuda Looking for Business Bounce Back

The island nation is getting aggressive regarding tourism development. Here’s how they want to boost development.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
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During the first week of September the island nation of Bermuda is running what it calls Tourism Experiences workshops focusing on prompting ideas for sports, arts, cultural activities and developing unique experiences. It’s also about exposing entrepreneurs to the notion of enhancing existing tourism experiences while setting the stage for the development of new ones that will attract tourist from other countries.

Essentially those tasked with boosting tourism are desiring to get both investors and potential visitors to think differently about Bermuda. And this is just one idea that’s part of a total reinvention of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

It’s a smart but necessary move too as the Island’s people are looking to reignite their country as a major tourism destination by returning to the heyday experienced during the 1960s through 1980s. At that time the country saw more than 500,000 people arriving by air each year. Now that number is less than half. And those involved in Bermuda tourism know that with increasing global competition the time to act is now, lest lose out on traveler vacation destination dialogue permanently.

Getting its fair share of tourists is critical to David Dodwell, who happens to be Chairman of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, and owner of The Reefs Hotel & Club on Bermuda. Dodwell says this is an entirely new way of approaching tourism development for the country and the Authority was only created by passage of the Bermuda Tourism Authority Act 2013, kicking off in earnest this past April.

The new law puts the nation’s tourism future in the hands of a privatized organization rather than the government, a move Dodwell said was critical if the island was to have a long term plan that didn’t get changed and jumbled with every new administration.

“We recognized several years ago we were losing our way. We used to be a leader but the rest of the world developed [tourism infrastructure] and we stayed the same,” said Dodwell during a one-on-one interview conducted on stage at last month’s BITAC® Purchasing & Design East. “When you have a government official running tourism who doesn’t know about tourism, it is a challenge.”

Dodwell and others on the Island were prescient enough to know now is the time to make change and by untethering from the government, the nascent group could eventually affect real, long term change.

The aforementioned workshops are just one piece of the puzzle that when complete Dodwell believes will yield more hotel investment, more passenger arrivals by air and a weaning off the cruise ship business which is less profitable than having guests staying in its hotels and participating in island activities.

“We have to go out and communicate to the world in a different way,” said Dodwell.

Dodwell said that during the 1980s there were more than 5,000 rooms in Bermuda but that number has slipped to 2,610; 600 of which are at the Fairmont Southampton alone. “We lost half our inventory. We have to rebuild that, not to be where were before but with the right product that people want.”

Dodwell places the island’s predicament right on its people and folks like him because they rested on their laurels and didn’t strike as other regional destinations such as the Caribbean built up their respective countries’ infrastructures.

“We did a terrible job at asking investors to come. We didn’t ask, we just waited for them to come and when they got here they struck bureaucracy at every step of the way. They would eventually give up. We didn’t realize we were doing that,” said Dodwell.

To fix that issue the Authority now has an investment division and a Chief Development Officer whose job is to go out and tell the rest of the world Bermuda open for business. To smooth and simplify development, the country launched an initiative dubbed “Red Tape to Red Carpet.” It’s a one stop shop that takes investors from that first phone call inquiring about Bermuda development all the way though to ribbon cutting.

Developers get walked through all government departments as needed during development and construction phases to quickly clear log jams that may arise, said Dodwell, and assists investors all the way through the hotel’s opening.

The idea came from an investment summit held in Bermuda a year ago that brought together lawyers, consultants, developers and investors to ask them why they are investing in other areas but not Bermuda. Islanders asked what could be done to fix this issue and programs such as “Red Tape to Red Carpet” came directly from that meeting. The government is also looking to eliminate bureaucracy and make the system work for investors.

Additionally, The Authority is helping existing hotels return to higher levels of profitability with a new emphasis on sales and marketing, but Dowell cautions it’s a tough balance because “if you do not have product and inventory you are wasting your money.”

It’s the same chicken and the egg issue with airline service too. “Airlines will come when you have hotel inventory and hotels will come when there are airlines flying in. It’s a delicate balance and we have special committee to meet and greet route makers in the airline industry and sell them on the new approach.

In all Bermuda tourism has its strongest commitment in years and Dodwell and his team hope to boost tourism revenue from $422 million in 2011 to $1.471 billion in 2022 while boosting tourism jobs from 3,600 in 2011 (9 percent of job pool) to 6,157 by 2022 (15 percent of job pool), according to the Bermuda National Tourism Plan.

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