How Bermuda is Boosting its MICE Scene
|Warwick Long Bay Beach, Bermuda // Photo by Joe Pike|
This past week, we caught up with several representatives of Bermuda’s tourism scene, including the CEO of the still-new Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA), William Hanbury; Shawn Crockwell, the minister of Tourism Development and Transport; and Michael H. Dunkley himself--the islands’ Premier.
Hanbury began the meeting noting that the BTA, at less than a year old, is independent from the government and not dependent on politics. The Authority’s focus, he said, would be on rebuilding Bermuda’s tourism economy, which he acknowledged had slipped over the last several years. “We lost our edge,” he said, “and we want to go back.” By reaching out to the U.S. and Canadian markets (“where the fish are,” he noted), Hanbury believes that Bermuda can become a year-round luxury destination.
Groups in Bermuda
Bermuda is also looking to attract the MICE market, and Crockwell noted that the American Society of Travel Agents recently visited the islands while on a business cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway. "They chose us," he emphasized.
Other industry professionals are also paying attention: The BTA and travel industry partners recently hosted a double header of events to promote the island as for group travel. The teams worked with the Fairmont Hotels to host Torchbearers, which attracts senior employees from North American incentive and meeting planning companies as well as select corporate end users that have the ability to influence site selection with corporate clients.
"The meetings and incentive market is important in building a solid foundation of business for Bermuda's future. And Bermuda has great energy and stunning settings to inspire new ways of learning and rewarding high-performing employees," Victoria Isley, BTA's Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, said in a statement at the time. She added, "Hosting a specialized event in the meetings industry is a really effective way to get event planners to 'test-drive' the destination. Product sampling is still one of the most effective tools in marketing."
The Tourism Authority will focus on promoting Bermuda to planners during the off-seasons, Crockwell said at the meeting, noting that the year-round mild climate makes the islands appealing for groups at all times. Insurance and hedge fund companies are already looking to Bermuda for their incentive events, he added, and the BTA is meeting with businesses to promote the islands for business travel.
One problem, however, is the lack of a dedicated convention center in the islands, but Crockwell said that plans for a large-scale venue are in the works.
So where will those groups go until that convention center is completed? Currently, Crockwell said, the Fairmont Hamilton Princess is one of the few hotels on the islands that can accommodate large groups. Smaller groups and incentives, he added, often seek out more intimate properties for buy-outs.
The first phase of the $90+ million renovation to the Fairmont Hamilton was recently completed, with updated guest rooms and suites, a new 1609 Bar and Restaurant, a 60-berth marina, an infinity-edge resort pool and an extensive public modern art program including pieces created by Andy Warhol. Phase two of the renovation began this month, with a new signature restaurant from celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson, a new Heritage Court Restaurant and Bar as well as new guest rooms in the main building of the hotel.
The Fairmont Southampton recently emerged from a renovation of its own, and Morgan’s Point is set to get a 200-room hotel.
Meanwhile, Michael Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones are reportedly working on a luxury hotel project of their own, and will refurbish the former Ariel Sands Beach Club.
“Every hotel is looking to renovate,” Premier Dunkley said, “ 2015 will be a big year.”
And farther out, the islands' hotels may see even more interest if legalized casinos become a reality: While many Bermudians disapprove of gambling, Crockwell noted, the islands’ tourism scene requires legalization in order to compete with other popular destinations. (The BTA and government are reportedly looking at Singapore as a model, Crockwell said.) “We’re not looking for lots of slot machines,” Crockwell added. “This would be three hotels with casinos.” In theory, he noted, Bermuda could be faster for New Yorkers to reach than the Hamptons in the summer—“And no traffic!” he said.