Harbinger of hope? The first cruise ship of the season to visit Dockyard, the Queen Victoria, is seen arriving on Saturday morning. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Harbinger of hope? The first cruise ship of the season to visit Dockyard, the Queen Victoria, is seen arriving on Saturday morning. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
WEDNESDAY, APR. 6: Failure to invest in high quality ‘destination resorts’ has cost Bermuda its place as an elite travel destination among affluent tourists.

While Bermuda’s once majestic hotels have crumbled and closed over the past three decades islands like the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and St Barths have built glittering resorts that have established them as the destination of choice for wealthy travellers.

Bruce Wallin, editorial director of the Robb Report — the Malibu-based luxury lifestyle magazine — said Bermuda did not have a single hotel that ranked in the top 20 in the region.

And he warned that while the hotels had slipped in standard, the prices had remained firmly five star.

“From an outside perspective Bermuda has lost a little of its cache. Tucker’s Point was the first hotel to open in 30 years.

“During that time a lot of other regions were putting forth these incredible resorts. Bermuda stagnated while other destinations were coming of age.

“When you think about the best hotels in the Caribbean and the Atlantic region, I don’t think there is one in Bermuda that would be ranked among the top 20.

“Bermuda’s prices are still at that level but the hotels aren’t.

“Affluent travellers are perfectly willing to spend their money but they do expect high quality in return.

“They are finding that in St Barths, in Turks and Caicos, in parts of the Bahamas. But in Bermuda that hasn’t been the case.”

He said the Tucker’s Point Hotel was ‘much more in line’ with what affluent travellers expected.

“Unfortunately they opened at the worst possible time but I think that is the kind of hotel that is more in line with what affluent American travellers have come to expect.”

He said successful destinations were constantly refurbishing and refreshing their hotels.

He cited the majestic Eden Rock Hotel in St Barths and the Four Seasons in Nevis as the type of exclusive resorts that pulled in wealthy tourists in their droves.

“These hotels are constantly refreshing and always staying current. Bermuda hasn’t done that.”

He warned that crashing the marketplace for affluent travellers would not be easy.

“People like to go where everybody else is going and when they find a resort they love, they keep going back there. People have been finding that in other areas. Bermuda properties just haven’t kept up with the times.”

But he believes Bermuda still has a global reputation as an exclusive destination and big-spending travellers would flock here if they found the top quality resorts they see elsewhere.

 “Even during the downturn our readers appear not to be cutting back on travel. They may not always be going to the highest priced hotel but they are still spending significant amounts of money on travel.

“What they are looking for is the best personal service possible, great food, great settings and a great experience.

“They are not looking for a bargain, but they do want value for money.”

He warned that Bermuda’s prohibitive real estate laws had hindered its hotel development in the past. While many successful Caribbean hotels used real estate to fund their resorts (the model controversially deployed at Tucker’s Point) Bermuda had only belatedly caught on to the trend.

“The perception is that Bermuda’s real estate laws are prohibitive. Many of the top hotels in the region were funded through real estate in the ’90s.

“Everybody was doing it for years before Bermuda, then Bermuda showed up and the party was over.”

He said Bermuda could still use its lack of development as an advantage, adding to the cache of the destination.

“Bermuda hasn’t overbuilt, so it still has a reputation as an exclusive destination.”

But he said a handful of new or refurbished resorts was essential to attracting wealthy tourists — a sensible strategy for Bermuda.

“For Bermuda it makes absolute sense. The island is not big enough to be a mass market destination. With its history and tradition focusing on the high net worth traveller is a good strategy.”

Special report: Tourism