What's the role of a chief experience development officer?
The job title intrigued me. Although it is not a common one in the tourism industry, it is part of the corporate organizational structure within the Bermuda Tourism Authority, the country's official destination marketing organization.
I spoke by phone with Glenn Jones, recently appointed to the chief experience position, when he was between events at Seatrade Cruise Global in Miami Beach last week.
"My focus here at Seatrade is to find ways to ensure that cruise passengers have the best possible experience while their ship is in Bermuda and to incentivize them to return as stayover visitors," Jones said.
But the job goes beyond cruise it encompasses defining and shaping the Bermuda experience for all visitors.
Jones is no stranger to the tourism industry. He joined the authority in January 2015 as director of public and stakeholder relations and was named director of strategy and corporate communications in May 2018.
His appointment follows the departure of Pat Phillip-Fairn, who held the title for five years, starting shortly after the Bermuda Tourism Authority was formed in 2014.
"Developing memorable experiences for visitors to give them a sense of place and a taste of how we live life were key objectives of Bermuda's first national tourism plan back in 2012, and they've re-emerged as important items of our new plan as well," he said.
The latest version of that plan was rolled out last fall, and Jones said there have been "lots of changes in travel since then, like the growth of the vacation rental market, the explosion of Instagram and sophisticated technology and the changing preferences of travelers."
The recent launch of more than 15 Airbnb Experiences in Bermuda, a collaborative effort by Airbnb and the tourism authority, is just what Jones has in mind for making visitors feel a part of Bermuda life.
"These immersive interactive experiences are all hosted by locals looking to share their passions and interests with people from all over the world," he said. "Visitors get a first-hand taste of Bermuda by joining wine tastings on Front Street in Hamilton with locals, exploring the Botanical Gardens in Paget with a local guide or doing a tour of historic sites with an expert photographer leading the way."
A major plank of the new National Tourism Plan is to tap the creative and entrepreneurial potential of Bermudians to help them engage more with their guests, according to Jones. "Airbnb effectively delivers on that strategy," he said. Bermuda has experienced explosive growth in the 45-and-under market, as well as marked increases in the destination weddings and babymoons markets over the last two years, Jones said. "We want these visitors and all of our visitors to feel that they are a part of Bermuda life."
To do that and to capitalize on all its market sectors, the tourism authority rolled out several projects during its annual tourism summit last fall.
"We launched several workshops, each geared to a specific tourism topic and focus, such as sports, culture, hotels and experiences, so that Bermudians involved in these areas can better understand what today's visitors are looking for," Jones said.
The authority has funding programs to assist new businesses to get off the ground if they want to get into the tourism mainstream economy. One of Jones' goals in his new position is to encourage entrepreneurs to offer activities to attract visitors on a year-round basis.
"We have a good handle on our target consumers, but we have to define why they travel only in certain seasons," he said. "We have good hotel capacity but need more, because at certain times of the year, it's impossible to get a room. But on the flip side, we have times where occupancies are low."
Bermuda currently has approximately 2,400 hotel rooms, with the newest being the 45-suite The Loren at Pink Beach, formerly the Pink Beach Club and Cottages. Rosewood Bermuda recently completed a $25 million renovation, the Azura Boutique Hotel & Residences on the south shore opens later this year and a St. Regis property will open in St. George in 2021, with a Ritz-Carlton Reserve to follow.
"Our tourism industry had three straight years of uninterrupted growth through the end of 2018. Total visitor arrivals last year set a new record, surging to 770,683, up 11% over 2017, and the number of air arrivals was the highest since 2002," Jones said. Q1 numbers for the current year are expected shortly, and Jones is optimistic that the numbers will be strong, particularly for the group and incentive markets.
"One large group that came was a Canadian construction company that probably leapt at the chance to get out of the cold," he said.
Jones, born and raised in Bermuda, is no stranger to cold weather, having attended college in Boston before returning to Bermuda in 2006 where he served as press secretary to the premier and later worked in digital media before joining the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
He and members of the authority's sales and marketing team were spotted on the sidewalks of New York City on a cold day this past winter, heading for a marketing blitz in midtown. And yes, the men all wore traditional Bermuda shorts and knee socks, despite the frigid temperatures.
"It drew attention and helped build awareness of our destination. That's the goal," Jones said.