Just as foreigners had their geographies mixed up when Ebola shook western Africa in 2014 and left most of the continent untouched, many vacationers don't know the difference between Bermuda and Barbuda despite the 1,000 miles that separate the two countries. A good social media campaign might work as long as it isn't insensitive to Barbuda's plight.
Bermuda escaped the 2017 hurricane season untouched. It was people’s hazy grasp of Caribbean geography that hurt it.
In September, while Hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda and hurricane Jose gave it a glancing blow, Bermuda’s famous pink sand beaches were drenched in sun under a gentle breeze.
No matter that the two islands are about 1,000 miles apart and that Bermuda isn’t even located in the Caribbean — news reports by several major news organizations confused the two. More than 3,000 tourists canceled their plans to visit and Bermuda officials woke up to text messages from friends saying “I hope you’re OK!”
“Collectively, Bermuda was like ‘What?”’ said Kevin Dallas, CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, in a telephone interview. “It’s a helpful reminder to us of the importance of our strategy that while Bermuda is influenced by the Caribbean, it’s set apart.”
Bermuda tried to get the word out that it was open for business through promotions and marketing channels, but erroneous reports of the island’s destruction had already spread on Twitter and Facebook.
“The social media genie was out of the bag,” Dallas said.
The island, which had seen 19 straight months of year-over-year gains in visitors, had an off month in September, although it recovered in October. Like many islands in the region, tourism is one of the top employers and an economic driver.
The Caribbean attracted 29.3 million visitors last year, spending almost $36 billion, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.
Photo credit: Bermuda wasn't ravaged like Barbuda was but many travelers don't know the difference between the two countries. Pictured is a scenic look in Bermuda on October 17, 2016. Bermuda Tourism Authority