Faced with increased competition for the tourism dollar from Europe and the Caribbean, Bermuda has decided it must actively court more economy-minded travelers, as well as large groups. But efforts to broaden the appeal of the island have been typically low-key; the government is determined not to alienate the loyal regulars who have supported the tourism industry for years.
Seventy percent of the island's economy is based on tourism. In fact, tourism has been the major money-making industry on the island for about 50 years. Much of this travel business always has depended on repeat visitors: families, well-to-do professionals, senior executives and some affluent retirees.
These often middle-aged and older fans like the uncrowded availability of clean, pink-sand beaches; unpolluted waters; quality up-scale accommodations; sailing and fishing; six 18-hole golf courses and more than 100 tennis courts; a quiet, friendly atmosphere; and the carefully controlled growth that has helped ensure those conditions.
But now this self-governing colony of Britain, which sits in the Atlantic Ocean 570 miles off the coast of North Carolina, has decided it needs to attract a wider audience, especially among younger travelers. So Minister of Tourism J. Irving Pearman recently visited major U.S. cities to announce these developments:
* A new Club Med facility, the first in Bermuda, was scheduled to open yesterday in St. George's Parish. The 630-room, 10-story "village" -- a departure from the usually somewhat spartan Club Med accommodations found in the Caribbean -- has taken over what was formerly the Loews Bermuda Beach Hotel and offers a full range of resort options. It's located at the northeastern tip of the island on 65 acres overlooking the sea.
The St. George's Cove Club Med is making every effort to fit in with the Bermuda image: Live chamber music groups give concerts after lunch or at sunset; there are six different restaurants; an intensive golf program for beginners and instruction for intermediates is offered free at the club, followed by one free round of golf; experienced golfers, for an extra fee, can play five of Bermuda's finest courses.
Bermuda residents can make dinner reservations -- if the club isn't fully booked -- and attend a show on a space-available, cash basis. (This is a limited policy followed by Club Med for residents of an area primarily when villages are close to major tourist centers, according to a spokeswoman.)
Club Med, which also is interested in attracting conventions, will install a spa at St. George's next winter and already has meeting rooms there. Two years ago the organization began a "Rent-a-Village" concept in which a company can rent an entire village or a portion of it. The normal club policies prevail -- no tipping, beads are purchased and used instead of cash, all meals are included in the package, with unlimited wine at lunch and dinner, informal dress -- resulting in "a very relaxed convention," an official said with a laugh. "The company president gets to fall off the surfboard, everybody's rooms are all the same, and it builds camaraderie." Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Nordic Prince, after plying routes in the Caribbean, has begun a series of 23 weekly cruises from New York to Hamilton, Bermuda, that will continue until Sept. 21. The ship joins Home Lines' Atlantic, which has made weekly visits to the island for the past two years; Chandris Cruise Lines' Galileo and Bahama Cruise Line's Bermuda Star (which debarks first at St. George's before moving on to Hamilton). Next year Home Lines will put its new liner, the Homeric, built specifically for Bermuda service, on the New York-Hamilton route.
For years Bermuda has controlled the number of cruise ships permitted to dock at the island to avoid the jammed streets and shops that sometimes inconvenience visitors to Caribbean islands. The four vessels currently sailing from New York will be able to bring thousands of passengers to Bermuda during the 1985 season -- but still only three cruise ships will be allowed to dock at the same time in Hamilton, the capital and main port of entry, while one may sit at anchor offshore.
The luxury liners generally spend four days in Hamilton, with 1 1/2 days at sea each way, allowing passengers time to shop and visit the beaches. The ship serves as a hotel while in port.
Officials hope the augmented sea service will counter recent trends, in which potential visitors have been drawn to other destinations by air. (Eastern Air Lines and British Airways offer nonstop flights to Bermuda from Baltimore Washington International Airport.)
* For the first time Bermuda is seriously seeking the convention and business traveler. Pearman has restructured his department of tourism, reorganized the New York office and formed a new group sales department there to increase the share of that lucrative commercial market.
In inviting more convention business, the government will be performing a balancing act to avoid overcrowding or straining facilities. Groups from the Ford Motor Co. and E. F. Hutton were recent arrivals, and Dow Corning, Coca-Cola, Minolta, IBM and State Farm Insurance Co. meetings are booked for this summer.
* The Marriott Castle Harbour Resort in Tucker's Town, Hamilton Parish, will open in February 1986, with a new 120-room complex -- the first major hotel addition built on the island in many years. Marriott is spending $47 million to renovate and refurbish the existing 295-room main hotel, which it bought last year, adding a grand ballroom and more space for conventions. This was made an exception (apparently due to the new emphasis on group business) to Bermuda's long-standing moratorium on new hotel construction and expansion, which remains in effect.
The Castle Harbour is not the only resort making improvements. The Sonesta Hotel has completed a new spa facility; Elbow Beach Hotel finished general renovations several months ago; Trusthouse Forte spent $19 million to renovate the Bermudiana, Belmont and Harmony Hall Hotels; and the Princess Hotels have been adding conference rooms and video facilities and arranging for better transportation around the island. The new Marriott and the changes at other large properties are expected to make it easier for the island to book conventions.
* New emphasis has been placed on modestly priced housekeeping cottages and guest houses, specifically to attract younger travelers.
Peak-season (March 15-Nov. 15) daily rates at hotels range from $90 to $145 per person, double occupancy, with two meals. But at Bermuda's answer to the New England country inn -- a housekeeping cottage or guest house -- rates are kinder. There are 75 of these low-budget properties listed by the Bermuda Hotel Association. Most have less than a dozen units and nearly all feature ocean views, private pools or access to nearby beaches. Prices range from $25 for one person (in a guest house, with breakfast) to $70 for four (in a cottage, with no meals); charges are less in the winter off-season, when temperatures also are lower. Some of these smaller properties are even gearing up to handle any overflow of business travelers from the larger hotels.
For more information on Bermuda -- including toll-free reservation numbers of some of the major hotels, a booklet describing accommodations with current tariffs, travel tips and a map: Bermuda Department of Tourism, 630 Fifth Ave., Suite 646, New York, N.Y. 10111, (800) 223-6106. Or see a travel agent.
* CARIBBEAN SAVINGS: The Caribbean's premium-priced high season -- unlike Bermuda's -- begins a few weeks before Christmas and ends after Easter. And though the sunshine, beaches, activities and shopping are just as pleasant in spring, summer and fall, rates during the off-season are much more inviting.
This year what the Caribbean Tourism Association calls the "Season of Sweet Savings" began April 15, with hotels cutting prices from 30 to 59 percent. Cost of packages have also dropped, and lowered air fares contribute to the savings.
A few examples: A studio double at the Sandy Pointe Beach Club in Tobago, priced at $60 last winter, now costs $35. The Concord in Curacao reduced its superior double room rate from $140 to $90. Royal St. Kitts Hotel on St. Kitts cut the $135 winter rate for a superior double to $56. The price of American Airlines' "Get Carried Away" packages dropped 25 percent, Eastern's "Super 7 Vacations" have been discounted from 20 to 50 percent, and Pan Am's package reductions range from 15 to 33 percent. It's all aimed at filling hotels and airline seats now that the incentive of a cold winter has vanished.
For more information on air fares, hotel rates, packages and special cultural and sports events: The Caribbean Tourism Association, 20 E. 46th St., New York, N.Y. 10164, (212) 682-0435; individual airlines, or your travel agent.
* MOBIL GUIDE CHANGES: The seven-volume, 1985 paperback edition of the Mobil Travel Guide, with more than 20,000 listings of lodgings and restaurants across the United States and in parts of Canada, has introduced some new features.
This is the first year "Luxury Level" accommodations have been listed. The appropriate symbol indicates that a minimum of one entire floor is devoted to the luxury level -- a "hotel within a hotel" -- that includes services such as a concierge and key access/private elevator facilities. Also, a symbol now indicates a jogging path is in the lodging area or nearby, and another denotes availability of nonsmoking sections in lodgings and restaurants.
The volumes, which are divided into U.S. regions, evaluate establishments and still award one to five stars signifying ratings ranging from "good, better than average" to "one of the best in the country." The guide also lists more than 20,000 attractions and events.