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Riding The Wave

Bermuda Sees Spike In Tourism In Recent Years

Friday, August 02, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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Boosted by large global sporting events like the 2017 America’s Cup and the ITU World Triathalon this past April, the island of Bermuda has seen tourism spike significantly in recent years and could be poised for accelerated growth going forward.

Speaking at last month’s BITAC® Purchasing & Design East at The Fairmont Southampton, Bermuda’s former Minister of Tourism David Dodwell touted the island nation’s strong comeback noting it has experienced four consecutive years of tourism growth. He further emphasized that following the America’s Cup, 2018 was the “best year we’ve had in 25 years.”

Dodwell--who officially retired as Chairman of the Tourism Authority in October-- spearheaded the transition of tourism from the government to the private sector.
“We put together a great team and it’s up and running,” he said, further underscoring the importance of tourism to Bermuda, “It’s really, really critical to us.”

Dodwell noted that Bermuda--which is actually a British dependent territory although he stressed it’s financially self-sufficient—in 2013 made the decision to transition to privately funded tourism.

“I said ‘no government should be in the role of managing tourism; that’s a private sector entity,’” stated Dodwell, although he did acknowledge it would be largely funded by the government.

While Dodwell--who is a native Bermudian and also previously served as president of the Bermuda Hotel Association--had retired from government in the late ‘90s he was lured back by the opportunity to make a difference.

“The government changed again and somebody approached me and said ‘would you lead this transition out of a government managing tourism to privatization of tourism? We undertook a five-year mission which started in early 2013, which meant legislation had to be passed and we actually closed down the largest government department at that time in the country. We put it together and it worked,” he said.

Dodwell noted the country--which was discovered in 1609 and first colonized in 1612--has a long history with tourism beginning with winter cruise ships in the late 1800’s. However, he noted that by the late 1940s and early 1950s the country began shifting its focus from winter tourism to summer tourism due in large part to the increased travel to the Caribbean.

Following the shift, Bermuda looked to attract visitors primarily from March to November, which Dodwell described as “a lovely opportunity.” He further added, “at that stage modern day tourism began and we actually did it pretty well.”

Dodwell explained, however, that the country became somewhat complacent in terms of attracting tourism in the late ‘80’s. “We were good, we were making money and everybody was doing well, but the rest of the world was growing all around us,” he said, particularly citing other island tourism destinations.

He later added, “we took our eye off the ball. We didn’t drop off all that much but enough to say there was an impact in the economy.”

As a result, Dodwell noted the country went hard after international business. In fact, the country has emerged as the leader in the development and regulation of captive insurers. Compared to Bermuda, no other country in the world has a higher percentage of actuaries, accountants or underwriters among its population. In addition, the island is home to 15 of the top 40 reinsurers and is one of the biggest reinsurance locations along with New York and London.

Nevertheless, Dodwell explained there is plenty more to do.
“It’s been very successful but it’s a business form of tourism. We really excel at the leisure side of tourism with the beaches, golf courses, and water,” he said.

Dodwell--who owns the Reefs Resort & Club in Bermuda as well as Nisbet Plantation Beach Club in the West Indies--pointed out some of the advantages the island has in terms of location, particularly for anyone on the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

“Depending on where you’re from it’s an hour-and-a-half or two hours to get here. You can be on a beach or golf course on your arrival day and you can do the same on departure day...We’re trying to get the word out,” he said.

Dodwell noted Americans make up roughly 80 percent of the island’s visitors with 10 percent and 5 percent from Canada and the United Kingdom, respectively. The rest of the world makes up the remaining 5 percent.

He concluded of the ramped up tourism efforts. “It’s an evolving business…I believe it’s what Bermudians do best. I believe in our ability to extend hospitality and we have a beautiful country. It’s all about convincing people that we have something here, a little jewel that every once in a while we need to polish,” said Dodwell.

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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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