Airlift up, air fares down, island enjoys travel boom

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Citing a rise in airlift and a dip in air fares as well as a jump in new hotel builds and a spurt of do-overs -- not to mention a spate of world-class events on tap -- Bermuda tourism officials are crowing that 2007 is a banner year for leisure travel to the well-heeled Atlantic island.

"There is no doubt that 2007 is going to be a record-breaking year for Bermuda," said Ewart Brown, Bermuda's premier and minister of tourism and transport.

According to the Bermuda Department of Tourism in Hamilton, the island saw more than 23% growth in visitors in the first quarter of 2007 compared with the same period the year before, the highest level of first-quarter growth posted since 2000.

Of 48,590 total visitors recorded from Jan. 1 to March 31, 2,765 came by ship, representing a 550.6% increase in cruise arrivals. The remaining 45,825 flew in; Bermuda clocked a 17.8% annual quarterly jump in airline arrivals for that period. 

Jasmin Smith, Bermuda's acting director of tourism, said a relatively recent increase in airlift, particularly of the low-fare variety, "has helped us tremendously."

Airlift up

JetBlue on May 1 debuted daily flights from Boston for the peak summer season through Oct. 31; the low-fare carrier, which also flies to the island daily from New York (Kennedy), uses its 100-seat Embraer 190 regional jets on the new Boston-to-Bermuda route.

And Zoom Airlines, a U.K.-based subsidiary carrier started in 2006 by the Canadian low-fare airline of the same name, now offers discount nonstops from Kennedy twice a week, en route to and from London Gatwick.

"Competition brought down the air fares, so we're doing extremely well this summer," said Smith. "June is typically a bumper month for us, period, but the boom unexpectedly began in May this year."

Mainline U.S. carriers are increasing service, too. Delta has a new daily flight from New York (LaGuardia), United flies twice a week from Chicago (O'Hare) and American upped its Miami frequencies to five weekly.

With more vacationers flying in, occupancies are obviously up. In April, Bermuda, with 2,824 guest rooms and 5,698 beds as of Jan. 1, enjoyed 76% hotel occupancy, up 11% over April 2006.

However, the island has lost some room inventory this year as properties have been shuttered for renovations and rebrands.

"We've had a reduction in some hotel inventory," said Smith. "But we also have pending developments that were announced, so it's just been a great year."

Both the 68-room Harmony Club and the 252-unit Wyndham Bermuda Resort and Spa have closed for redevelopment. Smith said the Harmony will reopen with 95 units under the Hilton flag. The Wyndham-branded property, meanwhile, closed in October for $200 million in renovations through 2009.

"The owners have not signed on with a new management company -- it may not be Wyndham -- but they will come back on line with the same number of units," said Smith.

Other established properties are adding fractional components and may temporarily close during expansion, she added.

"You will see Bermuda struggling a little as we redevelop [inventory]," she said.

On the plus side, the 104-unit, five-star Tucker's Point Club will reopen in 2008 on the grounds of the former Castle Harbour Hotel as Bermuda's first new luxury hotel build in 35 years.

Further down the line, plans have been submitted to Bermuda's government for two pending hotel-and-residences projects from Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.: a 210-unit hotel in St. George's to operate under Starwood's St. Regis brand and a 325-room development by the Jumeirah Hotel Group of Dubai.

"These developments are in the conceptual stage, in principal," said Smith. "The governmental approval process is nearing completion, but we won't see opening of this new resort inventory until 2010 to 2011."

What's on in autumn

In the meantime, Bermuda's tourism officials are busy promoting two major events that will usher in the island's fall and winter -- or golf and spa -- season, which runs from November through March.

The Bermuda Music Festival, featuring local and international talent, will take over the Royal Naval Dockyard from Oct. 3 to 6.

"This is the 10th year of the festival, and it drives a lot of business from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard," said Smith.

From Oct. 15 to 17, Bermuda will host the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for the first time, at the Mid Ocean Club and the Fairmont Southampton.

"October is pretty much our transitional month," said Smith. "These events definitely pick up business and keep the island buzzing to take us from the beach season to the spa and golf season."

Call (800) BERMUDA, or (800) 237-6832, or visit www.bermudatourism.com.

To contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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