Bermuda feeling the pinch

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HAMILTON -- Bermuda is feeling the effects of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Seventy-five percent of all visitors to Bermuda are Americans. The effect to this island is absolutely traumatic," said Michael Winfield, president and chief executive officer of Cambridge Beaches.

September, which is normally a good month for occupancy levels in Bermuda, simply disappeared, mostly due to flight groundings, said Winfield, who also is director of the Bermuda Hotel Association and a committee member of the Bermuda Alliance for Tourism.

Occupancy rates, which should be at 90% across the board, are averaging in the 20% range, he said.

Winfield."From September there has been a knock-on effect into October already. October is usually one of the best months for tourism here," he said.

Many groups that were booked for October have deferred their vacations.

That seems to be the trend, specifically at Cambridge Beaches, according to Winfield.

"Seventy percent of the people who called to say they couldn't come this time transferred their deposits to indefinite future reservations," he said.

Nevertheless, Winfield said, there is still a loyal contingent of Americans who have come to the island in the last month.

"We are obviously extraordinarily grateful and appreciative that they have made the effort to overcome the natural trepidation and fear that exists," he said.

He said he feels Americans are adopting a wait-and-see attitude and are watching the stock market carefully.

Winfield remains positive that the effects on Bermuda's tourism will be minimal in the long term and that Bermuda's reputation as a safe and conservative island might emerge as an important attribute in the coming months, especially to the American market.

As far as marketing tourism to the U.S., Winfield said, "We want to be very careful, sensitive and supportive to Americans, and certainly do not want be going in with campaigns boasting about this or that. It's going to take some time to develop and think about.

"We want to give the American market time to recover and refocus, but we will be coming into the market when we think it's appropriate."

The Bermuda Hotel Association is planning a summit with U.S. tour operators in New York the second week in October.

"Our immediate and midterm response will be discussed and ratified at that meeting," said Winfield.

"I think the shock is beginning to wear off," he said. "I don't think the horror ever will, but this determination emerging in the American market is wonderful to see.

"Everybody says the world has changed, and without question it has, but I think Bermuda is going to emerge as a very strong travel alternative."

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