Column: Revitalizing Bermuda’s Tourism Industry

April 16, 2016

[Opinion column written by Shadow Tourism Minister Jamahl Simmons]

It is disappointing, but not surprising that the OBA continues to run from their record on tourism instead of standing up and taking accountability. It is the OBA that has presided over a 49 year low on air arrivals, a loss of over two thousand jobs, continued business closures and the doubling of the debt.

While they should be angry about their abysmal record, they instead become enraged when any Bermudian dares to point out that they have broken promises, implemented anti-Bermudian policies and failed to deliver on 2000 jobs for Bermudians. At some point, their approach must shift from blaming the PLP to actually doing the job they were elected to do.

We encourage Bermudians to ask if the OBA’s approach has:

  • Created a job for you, your friends and loved ones?
  • Put more money in your pocket?
  • Brought down the cost of basic necessities?
  • Given you hope that your children will have a better future?

Simply put, is your life better under the OBA?

The PLP’s Vision for Tourism involves taking a frank, honest approach to the challenges facing that important pillar of our economy. We must recognize that the costs of getting to and staying in Bermuda are deterring many visitors from coming to our shores. It isn’t necessarily that they can’t afford the cost of a Bermuda vacation; often it is the perception that they can get more elsewhere, for less, the proverbial more bang for their buck.

When tourism is working, it creates jobs, business opportunities and an array of opportunities for Bermudians. In Bermuda’s tourism’s heyday, the lives of many average working Bermudians were built off of tourism. Many homes were purchased, and children educated off the incomes received through bartending, front desk reception, and housekeeping responsibilities.

The PLP is committed to revitalizing tourism based on several core, philosophical beliefs:

1] Tourism works best, when Bermudians are at the forefront. While we may argue about which country has the best beaches or best night life, the one thing that is undeniably unique to Bermuda is our people. It is our Bermudian people that have created the atmosphere and the energy that has inspired generations of visitors to come back again and again. We must get that back.

2] Communication and Collaboration – with so many Bermudians not only enthusiastic and committed to the revitalization of tourism, but also relying on it to assist in creating jobs and opportunities; that energy and ideas must be tapped into and utilized. All stakeholders from the ownership level, the management level, workers and members of the community have a role to play and we in the PLP will demonstrate an open door policy to ensure that every voice and every idea is heard. While we may not agree on every solution to revive tourism, we can work towards finding common ground and incorporating ideas that work.

3] Competitive Marketing of our Product. Our competition is spending more on getting their product out into the marketplace. Our potential clients are seeing our competitors ads more frequently, hearing our competitors’ names more often and learning more about what our competitors have to offer. In an environment as competitive as global tourism we will have to spend more and shout our virtues louder to be heard and reach our customers.

Furthermore, the PLP understands that fixating on the same target demographic group that we went after in the 20th century, ignores the reality that, that group is shrinking, has more options and simply isn’t responding to our product in the numbers they used to. We must reach out to and be accommodating to a far, wider, younger and more diverse audience.

4] A Diversified and “Freed Up” Product. The PLP’s position is that the guest houses and smaller tourism properties are as important as the larger properties. They offer opportunities to offer an affordable, authentic Bermudian experience that will, in the long run benefit Bermuda tourism overall. While we remain committed to our larger properties and will continue to support existing properties and pursue future properties, we must place an equal emphasis on all our island’s product.

5] Accountability – At every level we must demand performance and return on investment. Every dollar spent must make sense and produce results.

We further envision opening up or “freeing up” our tourism product by encouraging entrepreneurs to explore wherever feasible, areas of opportunity long enjoyed by our competitors but that we have been reluctant to explore in the past. While we cannot be all things to all people, we must be prepared to be more and offer more than we are now.

We must further get all of our businesses to understand that poor customer service is a management issue; either a failure to hire the right people, a failure to properly train them to standard or a failure to effectively manage their frontline staff.

To be clear, there is no easy, overnight fix to tourism. It will take a lot of work, a lot of innovation and a lot of commitment from all of us.

The PLP have learned from the past and after the next election we will provide Bermudians with a government that has a plan to put Bermudians first, build a more inclusive Bermuda, and where there will be opportunities for all of us to succeed and prosper.

-Jamahl Simmons

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Comments (16)

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  1. Ed Case says:

    1. We should rent cars.
    2. We should have a casino.

    These two items would allow us to compete with other destinations. Bermudians need to get their heads out of their behinds and do this. No excuse is good enough for not doing either of these things.

    It is time. Compete or die as a tourism destination.

    • Toodle-oo says:

      None of those things are going to make any difference at all . Our own success has killed us and devoided us of the things that used to make us special .
      Are we still peaceful , restful , uncrowded and ‘underdeveloped’ like we were in our heyday ? NO !

      Furthermore you must not have spoken to any tourists for a long time.
      20 years ago when I was in the tourist transportation industry every last one of them commented on the shocking amount of traffic and how it seriously affected the quality of their holiday and expectations.
      Now you want to give them more of the very thing that has helped destroy our image ?

      Rental cars is a seriously dumb idea for an island of 20 sq miles that already has over 700 vehicles per mile of road .

    • Eve says:

      Our roads are already so dangerous that visitors on scooters are a danger to themselves and us. Few could afford rental cars if they were available and they would just add to the problem. No one will come to Bermuda for the gambling there is too much competition elesewhere. This PLP vision has more insight than what we have seen from BTA. Bermuda can compete if you know how to compete with what you have!

      • Zevon says:

        Wow, you are a ray of sunshine aren’t you. Roughly translated, you said “let’s not try anything. Anything we do will fail”.

  2. I like cake says:

    3) We should put the fake hunger striker on a round about.

  3. Triangle Drifter says:

    Renting cars would be disastrous. No doubt that the average US driver is far better than a Bermuda driver until it comes time to park. What should be rented is gas golf carts as is done in other small islands or sideby side ATVs which only have a top speed of a little over 30mph.

  4. wahoo says:

    What did you learn from the past exactly? The entire article rambled on about this and that but you really said nothing. Tell me/us what you learned from the past I want to know because something really went wrong and I am not going to vote for you unless you own up to “the past”.

  5. Ed Case says:

    Exactly the reaction from myopic Bermudiams that I expected. Out of time, and out of ideas. Bermuda will never ever have a tourist industry until you are willing to change. The narrow minded responses above show you are complete fools. You think that merely being Bermudians and saying good morning is enough. Our product is appalling and that is why tourism is in the toilet. Shame none if you have a single clue.

    • Mercy says:

      Bermuda is clearly divided! We cant even accept each other for who we are and be kind to one another. What chance do tourists stand of being welcomed and accepted??

  6. Ed Case says:

    Class A cars would be perfect as rentals. But Bermudians would be required to actually try something new and that of course won’t happen. Dying a slow death and too stupid to do anything about it. Definition of Bermuda in a nutshell.

  7. NO!! Bluntly put, life under the oba has been one disaster after disaster.
    Our children’s future is clearly at stake.Education WAS a definite guarantee. Not at this moment.
    Yup!! Change the power reins so that educated Bermudians have a fair stand in today’s economy IN THEIR OWN country.
    Do note: WE ARE NOT ANTI-FOREIGNER, but PRO BERMUDIAN.
    Chasing us out of our country will result, in the end, in a mass exodus return.We must be placed, appropriately and respectfully, in our own community, OUR BELOVED BERMUDA.

  8. More of the same says:

    Some more mouthpiece from the PLP.

    1/ Although I agree with Mr. Simmons it is our ppl that made it a hospitable island to come to, not all our ppl, want to be in hospitality, otherwise they’d be in the positions available already…you say we must get Bermudians back at the forefront…tell me what does that incolve or look like?

    2/ you speak of having an open door policy where people can come to you with ideas? Really? Once any political party is in power they utilize their ideas they have and anyone elses that come to them…don’t trust it.

    3/ you say we will have to spend more to be louder? Ha…of course, PLP has to spend more? That scares me! BTA, who is scrutinized by the PLP, are doing a great job at marketing in our key target markets… east coast, eastern Canada, and the UK. I’ve seen marketing myself in these jurisdictions and have been made aware via bernews of every editorial Bermuda has been featured in. Are you tellin me you will do more of the same? Surely the methodology you are speaking of is currently being used, yet you have a different approach? Do tell… BTW… the rich population (the one’s that we’re currently marketing to) isn’t shrinking. If it was, the middle class of the world wouldn’t be so upset about that 1%…also, BTA has taken the approach of advertising to the adventure seekers and other diversified target markets…look up BurntHouse productions.

    4/ A diversified and freed up product? Supporting the smaller properties like the BTA has with having public meetings on how we can take advantage of letting our homes out as vacation home, especially when the Americas Cup is here on isalnd? Or how we can take advantage of all the websites out there like airbnb? What’s your exact approach at doing this? While remaining committed to our larger properties… but of course you do Jahmal, they’re our bread and butter. We have 4 new properties that will be opening by 2018, you think that we may have to be committed to them and show support….thanks for telling us. Highlight of that piece of info is….4 new properties, never happened under the PLP!

    5/ more accountability… this doesn’t get much better than that from a rep of the PLP. How do you step into private sector matters and train people? Or choose best hiring practices for businesses to weed out the “bad” employee? Tell me the ideas please. PLP have learned from the past have they? Unfortunately so jave the people of this once great country. We lauded the fact we were above all when it came to our public purse, and it only took 14 years for your party to snatch it from under the very people you want to vote for you.

    PLP always say, “stop with the blaming of PLP,” but we the people can’t Mr Simmons. It wasn’t the global recession that caused our fragile country to crumble from atop our peak. If it was, we’d be well out of the gutter as much as any other great nation has. With our surplus of funds we had enough emergency cash to see us through the ruins, but they were squandered by your government on overruns, double payments, and mismanged economic procedures. We’ve read what happened and the AG has said that unscrupulous activity has occured, but without her having power to summons, couldn’t wrap her findings with a neat little bow; we now have a Commision of Inquiry who should be able to place any of your associates who allowed the mismanagement of our monies in their rightful place.

    Please don’t tell us Mr Simmons that you have learned from the past, and like good little children, you promise not to be bad again. Your party had 14 years to prove itself and it failed. Any child that doesn’t learn a lesson by 14 will be socially misguided and it will take longer than 5 years before they are trusted with a major responsibility again.

  9. steve says:

    the ubp,oba,plp all tried and failed to produce a meaningfull increase in tourism.It makes one think that it isnt the sales pitch, its the product vs cost?. I think they should put you in charge Jahmahl as i am sure you have the magic.But wait, Other than getting elected and talking allot, what have you done?

  10. Kath Heytink says:

    My husband and I have been visitors to Bermuda since 1969 (I actually have one more trip in 1967!) and as a frequent visitor, I have to tell you that THE best thing about Bermuda is the people – it’s why we return. We have been to many other islands, and no where are the people more warm, friendly and welcoming than in Bermuda – and it’s genuine, not just put on for tourists. There is no one hassling you the moment you step out a door, to buy their wares, or to have your hair braided, or to go off with them on some jaunt. Just warm smiles and a friendly hello.

    One of the things that I think puts off those of us who fly into Bermuda and stay and spend money on activities, shopping and restaurants is the emphasis on the last 15 years or so on cruise ship passengers.

    They are only there for 2 or 3 days – bring huge crowds of people that make it difficult to get around. You often have to wait on activities, because the operators are committed to the cruise ship shore excursion desk and can’t take reservations from non-cruise ship passengers until they have fulfilled their obligations.

    Many of the shops are now located out at Dockyard and not as convenient as they were. And now there is an attempt to even alienate the cruise ship passengers by not selling 2 and 3 day transportation passes for the bus and ferry. If you want to get these people off the buses and ferries, perhaps sell some kind of taxi pass – giving a discount for multiple rides or a taxi tour. It can get very expensive – and Bermuda is expensive (worth it in my mind, but cruise passengers tend to have less expendable cash – which is why they do the cruise – everything is paid for up front)

    We do take cruises, but not to Bermuda – where we prefer to fly in and stay for 10 days to 2 weeks at a time. I belong to many cruise Facebook groups and I run a Facebook group called Bermuda Bound – where I share my knowledge and appreciation of Bermuda with those who are planning trips. I’d say about 90% of my 1000 members are visiting on a cruise ship. Perhaps your Tourism Department should drop by – or spend more time talking to actual tourists to find out what they want instead of guessing. I haven’t had one person asking for casinos or rental cars. Not one.

  11. Mike Anderson says:

    I’ve visited Bermuda twice in the past two years and plan to return at least every couple of years. I love Bermuda. I think a lot of the problem is lack of advertising. I live in Maryland and we see lots of ads for Jamaica and the beaches of the US, but I’ve never seen an ad for Bermuda. Ads can also be tailored for young people. Casinos aren’t a big draw anymore, many states have them – there are 5 in Maryland and another is being built. I oppose allowing tourists to rent cars or golf carts, the current transportation options are fine. Just my two cents.