Self-renewal Is The Key for Bermuda Resorts

Bermuda's hotels have seen occupancy slump in recent months, but experts say that renovations of the island's major facilities are beginning to boost meetings.

The Bermuda Hotel Association said that a weak leisure-travel market contributed to a 77.6 percent occupancy rate in July, down from 82 percent in the same month a year ago. Hotels on the island are projecting a 54.5 percent occupancy rate for August, short of the target of 64 percent.

But the outlook is considerably brighter when just groups are considered.

"We picked up a great deal in the second quarter of 2005 in the meetings and convention market," said Karin Darrell, regional manager of East Coast sales for the Bermuda Department of Tourism.

Michael Winfield, president of the Bermuda Hotel Association, attributed the leisure-travel slump to a lag in marketing as the tourism ministry retooled its sales operations in the United States. He also cited airfares that remain high despite the entry of discount carrier USA 3000 Airlines, which debuted in the market last spring.

"Looking at competing destinations in 2004, we lost business to South Florida simply over the difference in the cost of airfare," he said.

On the meetings side, however, extensive renovations at the island's key properties for groups — the Fairmont Southampton, Fairmont Hamilton Princess, Wyndham Bermuda Resort and Spa, and the Mandarin Oriental Elbow Beach — have renewed planner interest in a market that even Bermuda officials admit had grown somewhat tired.

"We've done considerably better than in previous years because of the significant reinvestment in those properties that cater to groups," said Winfield.

This spring, for example, the Wyndham completed a renovation project that included a refurbishment of all oceanfront and beachfront junior suites, expanded meeting space with new carpeting, walls and lighting, the addition of Bermuda's first water park, and four new restaurants.

Refreshed meeting rooms were also part of the $60 million in renovations at the two Fairmonts, completed in mid-2004.

At the Elbow Beach, Mandarin Oriental is upgrading each of its 80 premium-category rooms to the tune of $265,000 apiece, adding amenities like flat-panel TVs and Bose sound systems. Also, 49 cottages have been spruced up, with the project slated for completion by next August.

The hotel also has added a spa, two restaurants, and — notably for a destination that sometimes is criticized for its lack of nightlife — an upscale New York style nightclub, The Deep.

"Our goal is to become the only five-diamond hotel in Bermuda," said Bryce O'Keefe, the property's director of sales.

As for the island's sometimes stuffy image, few restaurants now require male guests to wear jackets to dinner, as was common practice in the past.

Embracing this more laid-back vision of Bermuda is the 9 Beaches resort, which opened in February with the boast that sandals — not suits — constitute the dress code.

The 18-acre waterfront property, built on the site of the former Daniel's Head Village, includes 84 cabanas, all perched on stilts and some over the water. The resort welcomes small groups with property-wide wireless Internet access and free loaner cell phones.

Finally, a destination spa resort — a first for Bermuda — is being developed on the Great Sound in Sandys Parish. Slated to open next summer, the Spa Resort Lantana is expected to include a 25,000-square-foot spa and conference center, 40 hotel suites, six private villas, 17 beachfront villas and four corporate suites.