Terry Lister Town Hall: Tourism & Transport

August 26, 2010

Despite an early downpour, the Town Hall hosted by PLP Leadership hopeful Terry Lister at the Midland Heights Seventh Day Adventist Church was attended by about 50 people this evening [Aug 26]. The death last night of Shane Kelly who had been a resident in the area, was acknowledged by a ‘moments silence’.

This was the fourth of Mr Lister’s Town Hall series and focused on Tourism and Transport, a department sure to receive a new Minister following the retirement of Premier Dr Ewart Brown who holds the portfolio. The first Town Hall Mr Lister held was on the Economy, the second on Energy and the Environment, and the third on Crime and Violence. He, along with Paula Cox and Dale Butler, are seeking the leadership position of the PLP which is expected to become available in October of this year.

Relating to Terry Lister’s campaign slogan “Its Bermuda’s Turn”, the very first query from the floor was: “Whose turn had it been all this time and whose turn would it really be in the future?”

Terry Lister replied that he saw this as: “Not Paula’s turn, not Dale’s turn, and not Terry’s turn.” He said that he genuinely saw this an opportunity to make sure that it was “Bermuda’s turn”. He felt that ordinary Bermudian people should have the most say and should have their concerns heard and addressed and their best interests looked after.

Next, a taxi-driver voiced the now well-known Taxi Industry concerns and complaints and raised some new matters. Mr Lister said that as Premier, he would establish a Taxi Commission to deal with all important matters relating to the Taxi Industry; that there was a need to better regulate minibuses; and that steps must be taken to return the Taxi Industry to profitability.

Regarding the Tourist Industry and answering points and queries from the floor, Mr Lister said that he was prepared to revisit Gambling; that Morgan’s point is the kind of high-end new product that had the best chance of revitalizing Bermuda’s Tourist product; given the known and difficult challenges, he would work intelligently to get Bermudians back into the Tourist Industry.

Lead by the people who were there, the lively seventy-five minute question and discussion period also went into several other areas, touching on Crime, Education, Small Business matters, and the Economy.

The discussion period was preceeded by a speech by Mr Lister, which is printed in full below:

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome to our fourth town hall meeting. Tonight our topic is Transport and Tourism – the way forward. Both these areas are vital to the wellbeing of the Bermuda economy and the Bermudian people. Tonight I wish to share my views on the way forward.

In my campaign to be the next leader of the PLP I have three major principals upon which I plan to operate. These are Accountability, Responsibility and Togetherness. This is our ART test. Are we being Accountable and transparent. Are we planning Responsibility and in an economical manner. And are we working together. In this small island of 60,000 people we must set aside former barriers and dividers of Business and Consumer, Management and Labour, Black and White. Because we can only solve the problems of Bermuda by working together.

We are blessed to live on such a beautiful Island. With green, lush fauna, crystal blue waters, and pink beaches surrounding us, Bermuda really IS another world. We have a product here that is envied around the world, yet we are struggling to draw visitors to our shores.

Our completion from the Caribbean has become quite fierce. They have lower costs, longer seasons and, as a result, have attracted more investment dollars which has translated into more visitors.

In the past, Bermuda was a premier destination for American tourists. Our hotels were plentiful in number and occupancy rates were good. Unfortunately since 1981 we have experienced an overall decline in visitor arrivals.

In 1983, there were 106 properties with almost 10,000 beds available. Currently, there are only 50 properties with 5,500 beds. In 2000, 330,000 tourists arrived in Bermuda via air, compared to 236,000 in 2009. Of those air arrivals, 257,000 were from the USA, compared to 173,000 a decade later. Even with the lower number of beds our occupancy rates are 70% in August to 30% in December. This makes it difficult to be profitable on an annualized basis.

While air arrivals are down, cruise ship arrivals are up. There has been a 38% increase in cruise ship passengers compared to 2000. But does this automatically mean that Bermuda benefitted financially from more tourists arriving? Not necessarily, as cruise ship visitors traditionally spend only 15% of what is spent by land based tourists.

So where do we go from here? I think while the answer may appear to be simple, the work that is needed to return Bermuda’s tourism product back to premium status, is not. We have to think more innovatively and broadly. My first goal would be to have more hotels built. While, Bermuda has some fine hotels, brand new properties will help to create a buzz about Bermuda and will also increase the bed count.

Currently there are property developments in the works for the former Club Med site, Morgan’s Point as well as a city hotel.

Under my leadership, I will seek to have all three hotels are completed by 2014. We have waited long enough and it’s imperative that we turn discussion into reality. Thus we must support those interested developers who have the financial ability to complete. While we rely heavily on the international business sector, we must see returns from our tourism industry. Bermuda and its people depend on it so we must stream line the bureaucracy and move projects along at a quicker pace than in past. Let’s consider Morgan’s Point. I feel that it would be extremely beneficial for a golf course to be created there. Such a course would bring the number of PGA-certified courses to two. We have already enjoyed two years of bumper crowds at the PGA Grand Slam tournaments; the creation of a course of this caliber could bring hundreds more visitors to Bermuda.

A more aggressive marketing strategy could see hundreds more tourists coming to Bermuda during the Island’s annual Race Weekend in January. We would promote this event at similar US events such as the NY Marathon, the Boston Marathon and the DC Marathon.

During the winter months, when visitor arrivals are lowest, golf tournaments could be held aimed at targeted audiences such as couples or seniors. But golf isn’t the only sport that could draw more visitors to our shores. The Department of Tourism, in partnership with various sporting bodies on the Island, will work to lure more athletes to Bermuda. For example, teams from the Major League Soccer (MLS) could be invited to the Island for preseason training.

As we have lost the traditional College Week crowd, sports tourism geared toward college teams will serve the purpose of the former College Weeks. Teams can come to train and/or participate in tournaments in Lacrosse, soccer, track and basketball. We will make special efforts to attract Ivy League Schools.

We must rebuild our base on the North East Corridor. The fact that Bermuda is only two hours away must be reinforced. Our overall marketing strategy must be reviewed including a review of the principal marketing agency. We must determine whether the agency is effective in selling Bermuda.

We must saturate our principal markets. We will encourage the airlines to keep the fares low and we shall tie the market spend to airlift. While there are clever things to be done with billboarding and social media, travel agents are still vital. We must work with them. We know people use the internet to make some bookings but I like to think that the agents are the cake while the internet is the icing. This being so, consideration will be given to establishing a small tourist office in Boston. Consumer trade shows must be targeted as they drive the consumer to the internet. Local newspapers in areas where the demographics are good for Bermuda should also be used. We must target affluent retirees during the non- peak season. By 2015 US Baby Boomers are expected to be 60% of the US’s wealthy people. This is the market that Bermuda seeks.

If we are to return Bermuda tourism to its height we must get Bermudians back in the Industry. Presently close to 30% of all Hotel workers are foreign and 50% of restaurant employers are foreign. To attract Bermudians the Industry must improve its public relations. Every effort must be made to educate Bermudians about the desirable positions in Hospitality. Too many young people are not interested in the Industry due to negative talk that they hear. Hotels and other Industry partners must provide incentives for young Bermudians to enter the Industry.

We should reestablish the hotel units in our senior high schools to give students experience with the Industry. This must be matched with a highly structured summer work programme. What the students are asked to do and what they are expected to learn should be closely monitored. Lastly, the Industry is not just Food & Beverage. There are career opportunities in many areas from Accountancy, Sales, Human Resources, Golf Course Management. Our people should be encouraged to strive for the top management posts and should be given the training that will take them to the top.

Government must act with a carrot and stick approach to bring about the change that we want.

Now Turning to Transport

It’s no secret…Bermuda is growing. We have more houses, businesses and residents than ever before, which inevitably leads to more vehicles on Bermuda’s roads. While we need our vehicles to get around, deeper thought must be given to how we can move towards being able to meeting our transportation needs while being as energy efficient as possible.

Innovative methods of managing transport will be vital in future. Over the past 12 years the PLP government has made enormous strides in the area of Transport including the introduction of fast ferries to help with the commute from both ends of the Island, amendments to the Motor Car Act to make the riding of auxiliary cycles a safer experience for new riders, making public buses a more comfortable experience, and banning the use of cell phones while operating a vehicle.

While many strides have been taken, we still have a way to go. Some of the initiatives will force us to think outside of our comfort zones to bring Bermuda in line with transportation policies other jurisdictions are moving towards or have already adopted.

As leader of the Progressive Labour Party Government, I will seek to implement the following initiatives to improve transport throughout Bermuda.

There has been a major increase in traffic travelling from the Eastern end of the Island in recent years. As the new leader of the PLP, I will have the Ministry undertake a study on the inclusion of a ferry stop in Flatt’s Village. This stop could become a hub for commuters and the building of parking facilities would allow commuters to park and ride into the city.

Mini buses will be allowed to operate on a broader schedule Island wide so that they can be better utilised in assisting commuters during peak rush hours in the morning and afternoon.

Another initiative which I fully support is car pooling. This has not been very successful in North America, however, if it takes some traffic off the road this is a plus. An advertising campaign will be necessary to stimulate this initiative.

We have a very good bus system, however , it can be improved upon. Operational hours of selected routes can be expanded into the early morning hours.

We must provide infrastructure improvements to designated bus stops to allow for “kneeling buses” to effectively be used to service elderly and disabled bus users. Improvements to bus stops will also include ramps so that wheelchairs can easily load and unload onto our public buses. This will allow the already owned buses to be used effectively.

I am embracing green initiatives, I will mandate that all Government vehicles being retired be replaced with energy efficient vehicles. This will show the public that Government is leading from the front on this greening initiative.

I shall also propose that the Government revamp all licensing fees with favourable fees for the owners of energy efficient vehicles such as EV or hybrids. The aim would be to encourage residents to purchase these vehicles.

As leader of the PLP, I will have Government work on building a solid and positive relationship with the Bermuda Taxi Association, dispatch companies, and taxi owner and operators. I am willing to hear their ideas and to work with them to deliver a first-rate taxi service which will benefit both locals and tourists alike. I am more than willing to listen. I will also explore the feasibility of a private water taxi service which will complement our current public transportation system . Water taxis are a successful tourist amenity in many parts of the world.

Over the last few years, Bermuda has suffered an alarming number of deaths on the roads with the majority of them involving bike riders. This is serious problem must be addressed by more spot sobriety road checks along with stiffer penalties for drunk driving. While the Bermuda Road Safety Council has done an excellent job of raising awareness in the community, it is obvious that some people just don’t get the message. So sterner penalties are required.

I will support the adoption of a minimum requirement for the safety of all helmets used by bike riders. We should not only be concerned with whether the helmet was deemed safe when sold but whether it is still safe in use long after the original purchase.

And lastly, we must aggressively repair roads. Due to increased traffic on the Island, road deterioration occurs at a faster rate than in past and this must be addressed on a more aggressive schedule.

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  1. UncleElvis says:

    Do people really not remember SOMEONE saying “It’s OUR turn now” back in ’98/’99?