Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Bermuda is riding a wave these days, buoyed in part by increased air and cruise visitor numbers, visitor spend and the changing face of visitor demographics.

The island is about to get a little more wind in its tourism sails, too, thanks to the America's Cup sailing race, where the top sailors on the world's fastest boats will battle for the oldest trophy in international sport on Bermuda's Great Sound.

Qualifying races start on May 26, and top challengers will meet the defending champion Oracle Team USA in a series of races beginning from June 17 to 27.

Packages range in price and length, depending upon dates selected. General admission tickets for grandstand seating and spectator boats are sold out for the final weekend.

Tour operator Roadtrips reported "a few packages left" in hotels and guesthouses.

However, even before November 2014 when Bermuda was selected as the host of  the 2017 America's Cup, there was evidence that tourism on the island nation, less than two air hours from key gateways on the U.S. East Coast, was beginning to curve upward after flatlining for a number of years.

It began with dissolving the Department of Tourism and creating the Bermuda Tourism Authority in 2012, moving tourism marketing into the private sector.

New marketing initiatives aimed to position Bermuda as a year-round Atlantic island and to rebalance the proportion of air vs. cruise arrivals began to bear fruit as visitor numbers started to climb, along with air capacity and hotel occupancies.

Victoria Isley, the BTA's sales and marketing officer, delivered a year-end report at a recent Destination Marketing Association International event in Nashville that painted a picture of robust growth across key performance indicators in 2016.

Key findings:
• Air arrivals in 2016 were up 17% over 2015, to 244,491 travelers, and cruise arrivals jumped 5.4% from 2015, to 397,904 passengers on 139 cruise calls.

• Average age of the Bermuda leisure visitor skewed younger than in years past with 76% of visitor growth in 2016 coming from travelers under 45 years old,

• Visitor spend among air and cruise visitors surged 18% over 2015, to $266 million.

• Average hotel occupancy jumped 10% over 2015, to 57.7%; room inventory remained the same as 2015 with 42 licensed properties and 2,334 rooms.

Sport and adventure tourism, on land and sea, is driving visitation this year, according to the BTA.

Initiatives that Bermuda is targeting include a continued emphasis on sports tourism, aimed at teams looking for outdoor facilities in a temperate climate. Signature sporting events, beyond the America's Cup, include the Bermuda Marathon in early January 2018 and the World Rugby Classic Nov. 4 to 11.

Destination weddings, which totaled 4,350 in 2016, an increase of 385 over 2015, continue to be a focus of promotion and marketing as do activities for families and multigenerational travel.

"While the year-end report is validation that we are on the right track, our job now is to surge forward with this winning strategy and ensure that Bermuda reaches its full potential as a tourism destination," said Kevin Dallas, BTA CEO.


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