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Calling all luxury hotel developers: Bermuda wants you!

That’s the message that veteran Bermuda hotelier and former Parliament member David Dodwell will bring next week to the New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference.

“Bermuda is back. That’s what I’ll be selling next week,” Dodwell told me the other day.

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I spoke with Dodwell hours after the government announced significant step in landing what would be Bermuda’s first big hotel development in decades: A five-star resort on a site that years ago housed a Club Med. The resort does not yet have a brand, but the developer is known for working with Marriott brands such as Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance. The developer has 120 days to negotiate a final deal with the government before the project gets the final green light, but making it this far is considered significant progress.

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“This is the first major development that will be done in 40 years,” said Dodwell, who also previously servedas Bermuda’s tourism minister.

Bermuda’s last major hotel was the property now called the Fairmont Southampton.

The island is easily accessible to most affluent Northeast residents who like pink sand beaches, historic sites and friendly people – especially in the winter time – since it typically takes less than two hours to fly there. Yet development passed over Bermuda due to a mix of factors that include politics and a strong desire by other governments such as Costa Rica and Panama to woo foreign investment and tourism jobs.

“Over the years, we became overconfident that this is a destination. We didn’t go after investors in meaningful ways,” Dodwell told me. “The hotel development world passed us by. There’s probably no other way to put it.

“Now, we have to become the marketers. We have to go out and look for it,” he said.

The newly created Bermuda Tourism Authority, which he chairs, is putting together a concierge service – a “one-stop shop” – for investors and developers that facilitate deals, he said. The goal is to upgrade existing hotels and build new ones.

“We’re taking the red-carpet approach,” he said.

I expect him to see Dodwell chatting in the hallways during the NYU conference with executives from luxury brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf-Astoria and Four Seasons so stay tuned for future news regarding Bermuda’s tourism industry.

Status of the St. George hotel development

In January, Bermuda had issued a request for proposals for a specific piece of government-owned land – the St. George development site. It was a good way to gage interest in Bermuda overall; about 35 investors and developers looked at the RFP, 10 expressed interest and five applied by the March 31 deadline, he said.

Each of the five had experience developing luxury resorts and “relationships with renowned hotel brands.”

Two finalists that had spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on their proposals were selected as the finalists, Dodwell said. Ultimately the government chose Venezuela-based Desarrollos Hotelco Group as its No. 1 choice. The firm is known for developing several Marriott-brand hotels including a Ritz-Carlton luxury resort in Aruba; the firm recently received preliminary approvals to build a 380-room JW Marriott Hotel and casino in the Turks and Caicos. Desarrollos now has 120 days to negotiate a deal with the government and sign a memorandum of understanding, which will move the project forward.

According to Bermuda Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell’s statement, obtained by Travel Update, the St. George resort development will include:

  • 16 hotel residences
  • 24 golf villas
  • 16 estate residences
  • spa and fitness center
  • meeting rooms
  • casino
  • swimming pools
  • pool bar and grill
  • specialty restaurant located in Fort Albert
  • renovation of the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones designed golf course

Readers: What do you think about Bermuda as a destination for vacation and/or meetings? (I’ve never been!)

Photo courtesy of the Bermuda Tourism Authority; the photo above shows Kings Square, the main town center of the Town of St. George, followed by a head shot of David Dodwell. Below is Fort St. Catherine.