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Confusion over islands hits arrival numbers

Friday, November 10, 2017

HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — Overseas media outlets which confused this British Overseas Territory with hurricane-ravaged Barbuda 1,031 miles to the south, leading to cancellations by would-be visitors, affected storm-free Bermuda's tourism industry in September, authorities have disclosed.

Barbuda was declared inhabitable after Hurricane Irma hit the island in September and although one person was killed, the Category 5 storm flattened the island which is part of the two-nation state of Antigua and Barbuda.

However, despite the confusion, the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA) said the island recorded its seventh consecutive quarter of growth, although year-on-year air arrivals fell slightly for the month.

BTA chief executive, Kevin Dallas, said hotel bookings had been up 12 per cent at the start of September, but a rash of cancellations came as hurricanes battered the Caribbean.

He said extensive news coverage about the storms, with several outlets confusing Bermuda and disaster-struck Barbuda, inspired some visitors to cancel their Bermuda trips.

“I think just about everyone in Bermuda woke up at some point in September to a message asking if they are all right. That's because we had The New York Times, the BBC and NBC News all mix up Bermuda and Barbuda,” Dallas said.

“The ramifications of that are pretty quick and immediate — people cancelled. We also saw Bermuda being put in the storm path by the National Weather Centre in the US consistently.

“Interestingly, when we look at September of this year, when we were not hit by a hurricane and compare it to October of last year when we were (by Hurricane Nicole), we saw more cancellations this September because of the media confusion.”

While air arrivals fell by four per cent in the month, hotel occupancy was actually up by one per cent year on year.

Dallas added that the BTA has been working to spread the word that the island is open for business.

“We are now on the offensive to try to capture displaced business, taking both leisure travel and group travel that would have gone to the Caribbean and redirecting them to Bermuda instead.”

Despite a challenging September, air arrivals and visitor spending were both up in the third quarter, marking seven consecutive quarters of growth.

Air arrivals were up by six per cent year on year, while visitor spending for air arrivals rose by 15 per cent.

In the first three quarters of the year, Dallas said air visitors spent an estimated US$222.3 million on the island — more than the entirety of 2015 or 2016.

Dallas said the increase in visitor numbers was largely because of a rise in younger travellers, with 90 per cent of the growth coming from visitors under the age of 45.

September arrivals, including 38,372 by sea, totalled 54.191. This brought the total for the third quarter to 266,787, an increase of 4.8 per cent over last year's corresponding period.

Arrivals for the first nine months of the year totalled 521,127, up 43,826, or 9.2 per cent, over last year's corresponding figure.