Bermuda tourism officials are hoping the island’s remote location, new direct flight from Heathrow and ability to cope well in the face of Covid-19 will make it a potentially attractive option for British travellers once restrictions lift here.
Often categorised with the Caribbean despite being almost a thousand miles away, Bermuda is on a renewed mission to forge its own identity, and is a destination that could have huge appeal, especially for luxury travellers this year.
Since last July when the island – which is a British Overseas Territory – initially reopened to tourism, it has attracted visitors with an even higher average household income than usual, upwards of $500,000. New legislation around superyacht protocols have also set the island up well to see an increase in visitation around that market.
Work to prolong the appeal of Bermuda to the yachting community began around 2017 when the island successfully hosted the America’s Cup; a new marina is set to open later this summer.
British Airways launched its direct Heathrow flight on 30 March, operating initially every Tuesday, but with hopes to move to as many as three flights a week in June as travel restrictions ease and demand rises.
There was previously a Gatwick flight, but it’s hoped this new non-stop flight from Heathrow – which takes just over seven hours, departs at 14:40 and arrives 18:10 same day – will eventually also stimulate European traffic given the potentially higher connectivity of the new base.
“As a result of the crisis, slots and routes were able to be negotiated, and we now treat this development like an entirely new route,” Glenn Jones, Bermuda Tourism Authority’s interim chief executive told TTG Luxury. “We are enthusiastic about this London airport shift from Gatwick just in time for summer travel planning. We believe the whole European travel landscape changes now in a positive way – it will prove instrumental in our destination’s tourism recovery.”
The service operates to L.F. Wade International Airport, where a new terminal opening at the end of last year sees it even better equipped to cope with new levels of protocol and administration requirements around the virus. “It’s virtually a whole new airport,” added Jones.
With the US another major market for the island, the airport has also upgraded its Pre-Clearance facilities, which allow US-bound passengers to clear US Customs and Immigration in Bermuda, instead of on their American arrival.
British Airways will operate the UK route with a B777-200, soon to feature its latest Club Suite, seen as another plus for attracting luxury travellers.
Also likely to prove attractive on the island is the new St Regis Bermuda Resort, with opens on 22 May. The hotel is in the north of the island, near Fort St Catherine, a former British Army location, and will have 122 rooms and suites, an Iridium Spa, two pools and a children’s club.
The island’s sports and adventure appeal will also be a heavy focus to provide differentiation, along with its culinary offering.
Douglas Trueblood, who joined as the organisation’s chief sales and marketing officer in February, said work in the UK would be ongoing to build leisure traffic for the island and focus on niche marketing.
“One of my jobs is to create the awareness and get us front of mind, especially in the UK and we will be working here to educate people and see what the opportunities are in the UK and Europe for Bermuda,” said Trueblood.
“Adventure seekers are a key target for us, along with families, who we are already seeing want to be able to come together in a safe place for a multi-generational get together – and Bermuda is close enough for the UK traveller to consider all this, with a seven-hour flight. There’s also the obvious connection to British life that’s always been there, and the familiarity, such as driving on the same side of the road.”
Trueblood and Jones are also keen to push the experiential side of the island, one that can set it aside from being just another beach destination.
“We do have great beaches of course, but they can all be a blur when you picture us in with the Caribbean for example, so we will be focusing on the differentiation, and see that as a big opportunity now,” said Trueblood.
Bermuda’s tourism reopened last July, and it earned the Safe Travels Stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council. The island’s public health system has also been managing a rigorous testing regime.
In place is the Bermuda Travel Authorisation, which carries a fee of $75 per person but aims to cover the cost of all mandatory tests for visitors during a stay, (children nine and younger do not have to be tested, and their fee is $30) and needs to be filled in online within 48 hours of departure.
Jones said the fee was likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future to cover what he said was a streamlined way of ensuring as safe as possible travel to and around the island. “Testing has kept us safe so far, so we see this as remaining in place,” he said.
Currently, all visitors from the UK are required to have a pre-departure Covid-19 test taken within five days prior to arrival; all incoming travellers are tested when they arrive, and automatically booked to be tested again on day four, eight and 14, with results typically returned within 24 hours.
There is still a four-day on-property quarantine in place for UK arrivals, who head to the island’s hotels to do so, but Jones said it was likely immunised arrivals would soon no longer need to experience this stage.
Immunised travellers who also hold a valid negative, pre-arrival PCR test result can go about the island freely as soon as they receive a negative result from their first arrival test, but must still test again on days four, eight and 14.
Jones said around a third of Bermuda’s own population have received a vaccination, a process that has seen hospitality workers also among those prioritised.
Meanwhile, the island’s cruise industry is also set for a boost with the home-porting of Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, which will operate seven-night cruises out of Bermuda to the Bahamas. Starting in June, the cruises will be available for adults who have been vaccinated and children with a negative test.
Trueblood said Bermuda was working on attractive packages that could also entice passengers to combine their cruise with a stay at hotels on the island.