St Regis success shows strength of island’s appeal as a destination
BY ANNABEL COOPER
The only thing certain about travel and tourism over the next 12 to 18 months is uncertainty.
Bermuda’s tourism sector has taken hit after hit throughout 2020 and 2021, but with increased vaccination against Covid-19, the arrival of a dynamic new CEO, Charles Jeffers, at the Bermuda Tourism Authority and an additional luxury hotel offering in the form of the St Regis, we ask if there’s room for hope as we head into the new year.
Regardless of what lies in store, the BTA is pushing ahead with optimism. It has hired a new UK-based agency to represent it in Europe, put a renewed focus on group business travel and is conducting a Bermuda brand study, which Mr Jeffers hopes to “roll out” during the first quarter of 2022.
“That brand study is engaging the residents of Bermuda as well as visitors to Bermuda, those who have never visited Bermuda and Bermudians who have lived outside of Bermuda for many years,” he explained.
“We’re trying to get a perspective from various groups about what Bermuda is and what our story is, so we get to tell our story in a concise but broad way.”
Does this mean a new logo? “I don’t know,” he replied. “Assets like a logo, tagline, all help us to tell the story. The story is the brand and the other things around that are just assets to support that story.”
Back in the “olden days” of 2019, a priority for the BTA was to increase air arrivals. That priority hasn’t changed, but the geographic opportunities have and are the reason for the new agency.
“We have a great opportunity now the BA flight is coming from Heathrow,” said Mr Jeffers. “[It] allows for more connections from Europe, so gives us an opportunity to market throughout Europe. They can fly into Heathrow and then connect to here.”
Increased group business would also have a positive impact on Bermuda’s air arrival numbers and the BTA is talking to businesses based in Bermuda about potential opportunities in this area beyond what they already do. Incentive travel, for example.
“Oftentimes, what companies will do as part of their incentives for sales teams, they will offer trips to celebrate them achieving those sales goals,” Mr Jeffers explained. “Bermuda’s been known as one of those places on the radar for incentive travel. I think there’s a real opportunity to go after some more of that.”
He also pointed out that they will continue to go after “great sporting events”, but supplement that with group business. “We may try to book groups, not just one-year deals, but three, four, five years.”
Many of 2021’s line up of sporting events had to be scaled down or cancelled, but Mr Jeffers was pleased with how the Butterfield Bermuda Championship went, in spite of the weather, and is hopeful that other events such as the triathlon and Black Golfers Week will return, in some form, next year.
“I thought the [Bermuda Championship] went very well,” he said. “A number of people reached out to me from outside Bermuda about how spectacular Bermuda looked. Of course, I did get a little ribbing for the rain,” he laughed. “As I tell people, even though it’s raining, it’s still a lot more beautiful than a lot of places in the sunshine!
“This year, because this was on the backside of an outbreak, it probably didn’t bring in as many air passengers as we would like. Hopefully in 2022, we can look at how can we increase the number of visitors who come in specifically for this event.”
Jan Vanhaelewyn, general manager of the St Regis Bermuda Resort in St George’s, said they are already expecting “another busy summer season” and that bookings for 2022 “have been steady”. The hotel opened its doors in May 2021 and he said business had “surpassed our expectations”.
“We had two types of travellers,” Mr Vanhaelewyn explained. “One type was people that have been coming to Bermuda for over 20 years, and for the first time came to St Regis as it was a new option on the island.
“The second is, our main market is New York and New York is where we have our flagship hotel. The brand really brought a lot of people when they heard. For a lot, it was the first time Bermuda was on their radar. As a destination it has been great, because Bermuda has a lot of new fans!”
Looking ahead, he is optimistic for the future and believes the outlook for the luxury travel market, in general, is strong, and this bodes well for Bermuda.
In 2021, the “leisure market has come back stronger in a lot of markets than in 2019, with higher occupancies, higher rates, which really shows that people want to get out, want to travel, want to discover. Luxury travel is still very important and people are still willing to pay a premium price for that,” he said.
At the recent IMEX America conference in Las Vegas, which is the largest meetings industry trade show in the US, Mr Vanhaelewyn said their sales teams received “spectacular” interest in the new St Regis, Bermuda. “They were really overwhelmed and the amount of leads that are coming in right now have been amazing,” he said.
While new luxury resorts and world-class sporting events all add to the sun, sand, landscape, seascape and generally warm welcome that visitors to Bermuda know and love, Mr Jeffers would like to see a renewed commitment to collaboration among all sectors in the hospitality industry as we come out of the pandemic, combined with a renewed focus on protecting and growing the visitor infrastructure such as hotels, restaurants, shopping, activities, arts, culture and attractions.
“A renewed focus on our visitor infrastructure can help other sectors of our economy as well,” he said.