Opinion: Rebuilding Bermuda’s Tourism Product

February 12, 2015

DESILVA, ZANE[Opinion column written by Shadow Minister of Tourism Zane DeSilva]

There has been a fair bit of discussion of late – largely emanating from the Bermuda Tourism Authority and its CEO Bill Hanbury – about the need for Bermuda to differentiate itself from the Caribbean.

For the most part, Bermuda is a unique product not the least of which because of its relative geographic isolation as a mid-Atlantic island, with a climate that for about six months or so, is unlike that found in the Caribbean proper.

On the other hand between May and September, one would find it difficult to not acknowledge that during those months Bermuda is just as Caribbean in terms of its climate, as any island to the South of us.

Notwithstanding that, with approximately 60 percent of its population of African descent holding strong ties to the Caribbean it’s equally as hard to deny that Bermuda has a very strong Caribbean cultural influence as well.  But what is really important is the perception of the customer and on that front – based on over a lifetime of experience – the prospects for success in terms of this aspect of  the BTA’s overall campaign is not assured.

I, like thousands of Bermudians of my generation, was born and came of age during the golden era of tourism in Bermuda. Tourism fueled Bermuda’s economic growth during that period and positioned us as a market leader at the forefront of resort style tourism globally.

Bermuda then, besides being unhurried and a place with some of the best beaches in the world, was also a tourist destination that for millions was also known for its cachet. The Bermuda of that era was hip, it was cool, and it was a destination that attracted a rather affluent, discerning clientele, largely derived from the east coast of the United States.

The burnishing of this unique cachet was driven by the welcoming and engaging culture of Bermudians themselves who manned the industry, particularly at those levels that required one on one contact with the visiting guests. For those of my generation and older, tourism and hospitality was part of our DNA.

Yet, during a time when Bermuda routinely drew 400,000 to 550,000 airborne visitors yearly – largely from the US – if one would have done a survey in our largest markets then and asked the question as to where Bermuda was located, I would hazard to guess that most Americans at least would have said in the Caribbean. At a time when we were breaking visitor arrival records year over year, many people in those markets were just as confused about where Bermuda was as they seemingly are now.

Our biggest problem may lie in the fact that over the last two decades Bermuda has become known internationally – at least in our traditional markets – for being more of a staid, boring, off shore international business domicile at best and for others, an off shore tax haven at worst; rather than a top drawer resort tourism destination, catering to the high end visitor, as was the case up until the mid to late 1980’s.

In other words we have become more of a place where the affluent come to do business, but not necessarily a place where they want to stay and have fun.

Today the BTA and its CEO seem more interested in distinguishing ourselves from the Caribbean than we are in creating a product that is superior to anything that the Caribbean and the world has to offer.

A recent news piece now claims that despite the claims of Tourism and Transport Minister Crockwell and his government, the former “Club Med” site is engulfed in controversy as to whether the St. Regis group which is owned by Starwood will be the preferred brand at the St. George location on behalf of the chosen developer the Desarollos Hotel Group.  This has arisen because the same St. Regis brand has entered into a prior and potentially conflicting agreement with the developers behind the Par la Ville hotel development project in Hamilton. None of which inspires market confidence.

The clock is ticking.

Over the next three years as Cuba comes on line and as major investment pours in there from the U.S the competitive environment facing Bermuda will likely intensify.

Cuba is new, hip and cool with a rich culture and a pristine environment still in many respects untouched by over development. It is also the type of place that the rich, hip young travelers that Bermuda used to attract in droves will be dying to visit.

To compete, we must move past the approach that argues that marketing can address what is essentially a product problem.  We must begin to give value for dollar, diversify and freshen our product through closing the deal on hotel developments, stimulate the expansion of smaller, Bermudian owned properties and be willing to become a more fun, more hip and more customer driven and exciting destination.

- Zane DeSilva

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Comments (27)

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  1. Kim Smith says:

    I am sure there is much more that Mr. DeSilva and members of the Opposition can do to contribute to the efforts being made to revive the tourism product in Bermuda but there is no time like the present so, please, bring it on!

  2. Loquatz says:

    Proving that having Zane involved in any way with our tourism marketing would be a return to disasterous political-hobbyist amateurishness.

  3. Loquatz says:

    Umm Zane, Bermuda needs to differentiate itself from the Caribbean because that’s where all our tourists have gone.

  4. Ed Case says:

    Clearly this was written before Hanbury’s last press release.

    In addition, Zane clearly doesn’t understand sales and marketing. It is completely irrelevant that up to 60% of us have ties to the islands to our south.

    What matters is what the customer wants and how they perceive Bermuda.

    You’ll likely find many more us tourists who like the idea of stopping for tea at 4pm like the English supposedly do – than feeling like they are in the Caribbean. Its just the way it is.

    Anyway, I suspect that Zane will quickly change his tactic and get on the bandwagon complaining about Hanbury’s salary.

  5. Aliker says:

    Who wrote this for you Zane?

    • Aliker, you’d taken “the proverbial words out of my mouth” :-) Anyone knowing Zane “can see the writing on the wall.” The vocabulary / manner of speach used in the article isn’t something Zane would use.

  6. Joonya says:

    Thanks Captain Obvious… or, to the one who wrote this for you.

    What is it with all the PLPiu opinion columns lately? Now all of a sudden everyone has a voice.

    • PBanks says:

      Parliament was due to reconvene, hence the numerous MP Op-Eds?…

  7. funny says:

    COMMON SENSE WILL GET THE INDUSTRY BACK!!!!! ENCOURAGE LOCALS TO COME BACK INTO THE INDUSTRY INSTEAD OF DISCOURAGING THEM AND ALLOWING GUEST WORKERSWHOD ONT HAVE A CLUE!!! CANCEL THE LARGE HIUGE CRUISE SHIPPS!!! HAVE MORE LOCAL ENTERTAINMENT THATS JUST A FE HINT!! IF TOURIST WANT TO BE SERVED BY INDIANS AND ALL SORTS THEY WOULD GO TO THOSE COUNTRIES!!!! THATS JUS A FE MAIN POINTERS FOR YOU!!

  8. Starting Point says:

    “We must begin to give value for dollar, diversify and freshen our product through closing the deal on hotel developments, stimulate the expansion of smaller, Bermudian owned properties and be willing to become a more fun, more hip and more customer driven and exciting destination.”

    …… or we can march in the thousands on parliament for issues that are politically motivated and orchestrated by the PLP and their union puppets, ruining the visitor experience with no transport, disrupted services, angry and impolite protesters who look upon anyone who ‘does not look like them’ with contempt and distain….

    ….or we can protest against gaming legislation
    ….or we can protest against quality international entertainment opportunities
    …..or we can protest about an improved and professional customer driven airport
    …or we can protest about finding ways to increase capital investment
    …or we can protest about allowing millionaires to buy homes here that none of use (but Zane and co) can afford anyway, this is the former government who decided Oprah would not be a suitable resident…

    But please keep the opinion pieces coming so that in two years, we the voting public have an even easier decision.

  9. Broke says:

    Hey Zane…where’s our $20M on Port Royal? Forget all this politricking, THAT’S what we want to hear about and the only thing we want to hear about from you.

  10. William Duggan says:

    If you are not already working on it, I would strongly recommend that you contact the Travel Channel and offer a week on Bermuda as their next giveaway that they feature on their channel and website (see the 2015 Vacation Giveaway at Travel.com).

  11. Mark says:

    what a numpty…he clearly didn’t write this but in any event, whoever did is a numpty as well…its self-contradictory, obvious and wrong all at once. a true marvel of bad writing…so maybe it did come from Zane…numpty

  12. Unbelievable says:

    He’s worried about Cuba. I actually have friends who literally just went and said that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Despite the people being warm and friendly, they said everywhere the food was horrible and you had to travel for long periods to reach anything.

  13. agatha christie says:

    The BTA has come out with concrete ideas, Zane talks in generalisations, and for political gain only. His party was in power for 14 years and oversaw a time when we saw hotels close or go bust. The so-called Platinum period never materialized, we had grand plans that never materialized …. why should we turn the clock back and try something that is bust?
    Come up with concrete ideas, Zane, not the usual ‘we must close hotel deals’ – we all know that, we’ve all known that for years and years but we all got cynical about it thanks to the PLPs consistent failure to deliver.

  14. Just a matter of time says:

    @Ed Case. “You’ll likely find many more us tourists who like the idea of stopping for tea at 4pm like the English supposedly do – than feeling like they are in the Caribbean. Its just the way it is.”

    Ah Wrong. Most tourists want to go where there are locals residing. Imagine flying all the way to China or India or wherever only to find a total different ethnicity of people who do not know anything about the culture of the place totally dominating the hospitality industry. People who do not even know about the country or where places are which happens frequently in Bermuda. Ask any one of the foreign workers here in our restaurants and other areas where particular places are in Bermuda and they would not know. And that is considered providing value for money to the tourist..to be confronted with the answer ‘I don’t know’? Is the BTA looking into that to determine how Bermuda is sold overall? The act of avoiding the locals by tourists as part of the vacation experience is in the minority.

    • Ed Case says:

      I take your point (just a matter of time) but the point I was trying to make is that many Americans generally love things English. They therefore think of Bermuda as a little bit of England. That’s where I got the tea at 4pm thing. I don’t believe the same affinity happens with Americans loving things Caribbean. At least not to the same extent. I agree with you, that BTA has to determine how Bda is sold overall.

  15. Huh says:

    The real problem in Bermuda is that our visitors pick-up on the body language that broadcasts: “you are SO lucky that I ALLOW you to VISIT MY lovely Island home, DON’T you dare stay TOO long and DON’T do anything that’s frowned upon in my BIBLE – and that includes you AC35 people – YOU HEAR ME!!!

  16. Basil Lambert says:

    “The burnishing of this unique cachet was driven by the welcoming and engaging culture of Bermudians themselves who manned the industry….”

    I can’t even picture these words ever escaping the lips of Zaney…

  17. just wondering says:

    Sometimes I wonder if Zane even reads what he writes – this is a quote from his article above
    “Our biggest problem may lie in the fact that over the last two decades Bermuda has become known internationally – at least in our traditional markets – for being more of a staid, boring, off shore international business domicile at best and for others, an off shore tax haven at worst; rather than a top drawer resort tourism destination, catering to the high end visitor, as was the case up until the mid to late 1980’s.”

    So one is forced to ask the question Zane – Which administration was in charge in the last two decades??? Sometimes I think you only open your mouth to change feet!!

  18. When my fellow Bermudians that have years of experience working in hotels / restaurants, places like Ice Queen that have a vast majority of its employees coming from elsewhere doing jobs that any Bermudian can do but refuse to do or accept the wages paid out to them foreign workers but rather seek Govt. assistance and complain…
    They are the Bermudians that need to go work at the countless places and do the jobs we see foreign workers doing; and if their wages are insufficient then they can seek Govt. assistance, “to make ends meet” until they’re able to find a job paying what they are happy with and of course capable of doing…

    • PBanks says:

      Point taken, but bear in mind that there are certain jobs on the island that don’t pay enough to offset the cost of (primarily) daycare, for parents. It’s not all that cut and dry, but again that’s where Government assistance could come into play.

      • serengetiperson says:

        Not every person who is unemployed is a parent.
        It might also be advisable to refrain from having children until you are economically able to afford them. A radical idea, I know.

      • That’s basically my point. Where one isn’t making enough monies to make ends meet then this is where Government can / will assist them.

  19. AC says:

    “there are certain jobs on the island that don’t pay enough to offset the cost of (primarily) daycare, for parents.”

    It seems illogical to have children if you can’t afford to care for them.

  20. e says:

    “Today the BTA and its CEO seem more interested in distinguishing ourselves from the Caribbean than we are in creating a product that is superior to anything that the Caribbean and the world has to offer.”

    If we are creating a product that is superior to anything offered by (1) the Caribbean and (2) the rest of the world, it stands to reason that Bermuda has to distinguish itself from said competitors.