Lean times, but still impressive for tourism in Bermuda

Having a hotelier run the Department of Tourism has helped put the brakes on declining air arrivals, according to the head of the Bermuda Alliance for Tourism.

Jon Crellin, who also heads up the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, said he has been impressed with the work Director of Tourism William ‘Billy’ Griffith has done in a year.

Before stepping into the top job at the department, Mr. Griffith was the general manager of the Harmony Club and Belmont Hotel.

Mr. Crellin said that while arrivals figures this year have been disappointing the second quarter yielded the worst air arrivals figures for that period since a new method to track arrivals was implemented 30 years ago they could have been worse.

He believes the deal Tourism struck with JetBlue this summer, to offer flights between Bermuda and Boston for as low as $99 plus taxes, was instrumental in ensuring people came to the Island during the economic crisis.

“You can lower hotel prices,” Mr. Crellin said, referring to the sales many local resorts have held in the last two months, “but if the airline prices are high people won’t come. Mr. Griffith has worked in hotels for decades and understands that.”

The department also partnered with hotels to help lower the prices of staying in Bermuda.

Visitor spending was $28 million less in the second quarter of this year compared to the same time last year and tourism arrivals were 14 percent down in the second quarter compared to the same time last year.

Some have blamed the fall in air arrivals on the chaotic year Bermuda’s New York tourism office has had. It started with the firing of several Bermudian staff 14 months ago. They were replaced by an American firm, Sales Focus, who in turn were fired six months later.

Mr. Crellin acknowledged that the issue was unfortunate, but said he believed things were back on the right track under the management of Mr. Griffith and Ann Shute, who has headed up the New York office since February when she was appointed director of global operations.

“They have tried a lot of things, direct mailing, bill boards and Internet advertising,” he said. “The department has focused on Internet advertising with the hiring of I-Crossing [a digital marketing company that specialises in collaborative web development] who revamped their website.”

The hotelier dismissed criticism that air arrivals were low because Bermuda did not spend enough on its advertising budget.

“It’s not about how much money you have, it is about how you spend it,” he said. “We are very fortunate to have a tourism budget the size that we do. When I worked in Massachusetts before here the entire tourism budget was $12 million. Our budget in Bermuda is much bigger.

“It is more important that it is used in the right way, and I think the Government is doing that.”

He pointed out that Bermuda should not be expected to have as large an advertising presence as Puerto Rico and Bahamas, which can have as many as 20,000 hotel beds to fill a night.

“Of course they are spending more than us,” he said.

But despite his confidence in the direction the department is now heading, Mr. Crellin said he still believed next year’s air arrivals would be lower than previous years.

“It comes down to group bookings,” he said. “Large conventions are booked several months in advance and we are not seeing many groups bookings for next summer.

“But already we have had people calling about summer 2011. It seems many companies are holding off on doing anything next summer but plan to hold conferences and large trips in 2011.”