Stuart Hayward On Sustainable Tourism

April 29, 2011

[Written by Stuart Hayward] The concept of sustainability suggests a process that does not itself interfere with its own longevity. Applying the term to tourism in Bermuda raises the question of whether the growth being sought in tourism product (hotels, houses for sale or rent to tourists, and other related development) and services (requiring more imported labour) is making Bermuda less attractive to tourists. If true, then our current tourism model is un-sustainable.

There’s not much question that tourism is at a low ebb. Visitors have been declining with a few blips here and there, hotel beds are low in number and still not well filled, promises of hotel construction are a long way from fruition. The reasons vary, depending on who one talks to, but at its core Bermuda has lost much of its appeal.

Reasons apparent to me would include:

  • Our economic model depends on an ever-widening consumer base and can be summed up in one word, growth.
  • Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. This model has consumption as its sole reason for being, its sole methodology, its sole outcome.
  • Consumption of resources is sidelined by mainstream economists who hang their trust on technology finding new resources to replace the ones we’ve consumed, and new ways of extracting the economic value out of those resources.

One key advantage of living in Bermuda is that we are face-to-face with resource limits – we have direct experience – such as:

Land: there’s only 13,000 acres to go around. A look at aerial photos over time shows pretty starkly the pattern of what happens when a growing demand meets and finite resource. As Bermuda’s population continues to grow (births minus deaths plus net in-migration) the demand for land increases, so each portion of land becomes more valuable, more costly. At the same time, each plot of land gets carved into progressively smaller pieces and is more densely covered with people and their things. In a word, Bermuda is becoming progressively more urbanised.

Urban life is tolerable provided there is sufficient sub-urban and rural space to provide relief. In Bermuda, every additional lot that is built upon results in a noticeable reduction in land for every other use – uses that are equally important if not more important than building construction. These include food production, transportation (roads and parking spaces), amenity space (vistas), recreation, industrial (electricity production, waste handling)

Workforce: our pool of labour doesn’t provide enough people to do all the jobs of an expanding economy. We generate more businesses – restaurants, construction and landscaping firms, office-cleaning services – but cannot find enough local labour to fill the staffing slots (despite the number of Bermudians working at more than one job). This may be absolutely normal: the distribution of skills and proficiency in our population is not much different than elsewhere – it has just been outstripped by the increasingly excessive demand for bodies in all ranks of jobs.

It helps to remember that in 2006, 75% of the new jobs created went to imported foreigners; another 15% went to foreigners already living here; non-Bermudian spouses of Bermudians took another 4%. Only 6% of the jobs created were filled by Bermudians.

If this is a glimpse into our future – that for every 100 jobs created, only 6 Bermudians actually get a job or, looked at another way, that in order to give 6 Bermudians a job, we have to import 75 foreign workers – we are in serious trouble. The demands of 75 foreign workers for housing, transportation, food, recreation, entertainment and health and social services is an extortionate price to pay for putting 6 Bermudians to work. This is not a sustainable economic model, nor cultural model. Bermuda’s traditional cordiality cannot be carried forth by 6 workers in 100.

In the recent past we have 1) wasted $60 milion in overspending for cruise ship berths, 2) expanded commercial activity on our most famous beach, and 3) proposed introducing commerce to our most pristine beach, overturned protective zonings on diminishing open space resources to allow a hotel to create building lots for sale, all in the declared interest of Tourism. But the obstacles to Tourism go far beyond these puny efforts.

If tourism is to succeed in Bermuda, we will need to:

  • restore the image of Bermudians as a well-dressed and well-mannered people
  • restore the image of Bermuda as a safe place to visit and travel about at any time of day or night
  • lower the speed and congestion on our roads so tourists can feel and be safe when walking or riding bikes;
  • get serious about reducing noise levels, particularly from motorbikes
  • tone down the provocative, anti-white rhetoric, particularly from government leaders and high-profile consultants, remembering that most of our visitors are white who will choose not to visit if they are faced with racial hostility;
  • explore alternatives to the current growth-at-any-cost economic model that consumes – literally eats up – our main and irreplaceable assets: the beauty of our Island and the cordiality of our people.

For tourism to truly be sustainable we will have to preserve our assets, the beauty and health of our environment and the beauty and health (physical, mental and spiritual) of our people.

A good first step would be for our Department of Tourism to springboard off of the recent Sustainable Development Conference and host a local dialogue on each of the six topics above.

Read More About

Category: All, News

Comments (6)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. john ventresco says:

    Mr. Hayward
    Although I disagree with your opion sometimes you could not be more correct in this article. As simple as this is it is EXACTLY what needs to be done for decades long, and new visitors to be, to bring Bermuda back to its greatnes. Well said and the best I have read in a long time. There is an old adage that I think is great. Back to basics and my favorite Do not let the past dictate who you are but let it become a great part of who you will be. Again well written and hope someone picks up on these ideas and brings it to action instesd of discussion.
    Long time and decades long visitor to your beautiful island.

  2. Just a thought says:

    I completely agree with this. As a student of the social sciences I always see the word ‘sustainability’ thrown about with no real definition or understanding of its meaning. I not only agree with your definition, but of your proposal on how to acheive such a goal. One other area to look at would be the provision of at least one cheap hotel, possibly subsidised by the government, at least in the short run. It is all good and well to get more airlines and flights to Bermuda, but when one or two nights at a hotel is equivalant to a round-trip ticket, it puts many people off, especially in a time of economic recession. I am not suggesting subsiding the Southampton Princess or anything like that. Just one or two smaller places – B&B’s even – which will help to attract people here. Once they are here, the suggestions outlined in this article should help to create an atmosphere and experience which people would want to revisit. One of the most valuable things to this island are long-term repeat visitors. So get them here, get them hooked, and build up the consumer base which will also go a long way into creating a sustainable tourism model.

  3. Googlybda says:

    A very simple concept is explained by Stuart. In the big picture, the affects of continued growth is chnaging the environment we all live in to the point that it is not sustainable. Bermuda is a microcosm of the problems facing the human race. This is not something new. When there were different civilisations dotted around the world, some came to the point of extinction through lack of resources, because they had been used up and not cared for in a sustainable manner.
    However, Stuart does not explain what the alternative to growth is. Stagnation or decline in economies, whether worldwide or local lead to economic recessions as we have all seen.
    There is not a “civilisation” since the beginning of time that has found a way to exist and maintain standards of living without growth.
    Human beings consume resources at an alarming rate, but we would need to evolve very rapidly to a point where the privileged consume less and the majority have an acceptable way of life.
    Protectionism doesn’t work, socialism doesn’t work in fact no one is even working on the concept of reducing consumption or even expectations.
    The phrase is that “we should all have equal opportunity to advance and fulfill our potential”. I would like someone to explain what this really means in a society that does not grow in all respects.
    It is a major problem for all of mankind and the suggested improvements that Stuart and other environmental activists put forth are just delaying tactics from the inevitable. They do not take into account that our basic civilized way of life has one massive flaw in it. Growth! But no real solution has ever been formulated.
    Reduce consumption of virtually everything we currently consume. This also has major, major effects given our current expectations. Less jobs for Bermudians. Less less revenue available to meet our expectations and provide a safety net for the less fortunate and even more importantly, no way to move people out of poverty.
    I too have no solution!

  4. Richard Starbuck says:

    Stuart’s 6 restoration points are key. But, given Bermuda’s indifference and disdain for tourism, I despair of any progress on any of them. Indeed, some of his restoration points are dangerously close to becoming national traits, as thoughtless, selfish and stupid as they may be. On several fronts, we are perilously close to losing the battle and the war. A return to normal, much less sustainable, tourism is not going to happen without a major upheaval. None of the proposed remedies I see are going to come even close.

  5. Tom Adams says:

    I was searching for a way to take a much-deserved, hard-earned long weekend get-a-way with my wife, Linda. I first visited Bermuda with my family when I was just6 years old; I am 56 now. Linda and I have visited Bermuda several times in the last ten years and were romanced by the beautiful landscape, the kindness and friendliness of the people, and the welcome feeling everywhere we turned. We were amazed at how easy it was to get around with the public transit system, and especially how polite the children and young adults were – offering my wife a seat when we were standing. I as surprised to read about racial issues in this article, however, I’m sure racism exists there, as it does all over the world – but it was never noticed or felt by us.

    We have been working long hours and I have not had a day off in over 45 days. I run a service business and have regular hours from early morning to well into the evening, 7 days a week. My wife teaches at the university and is the principal at a private school for children with developmental disabilities. We are not wealthy, but our lives are rich. With this in mind, my thoughts were to surprise her with a long weekend in Bermuda so we can connect again – with each other and a place we have come to love. If there is an underlying anti-white sentiment there I find it very troubling. If there is developing gang violence and crime / murder that is another story all together.

    Over development, increasing population, limited natural resources, and commercialization of private, pristine beach areas… these are serious issues, but not unlike what we face in every nation around the globe. All this in addition to crime, pollution and stressed economies. The problem isn’t that your beautiful land attracts tourists, but that issues exist that could change the attraction and the future of many lives there that survive because of tourism. Pride in who we are as individuals, pride in our land and our homes, and pride in our people are the things that make us great – no matter where we live in the world. Talk of building a sustainable future for any of us is of tremendous importance today – even where I live in New York. The basics: affordable food, water, housing, education and transportation, plus decent employment and wages – these are the things we wish for in every society. Limit or reduce any of these things and you have a recipe for unrest, but none of us has an excuse for racism. Not me. Not my children. Not anyone. It is time to embrace all our differences and appreciate those differences. How will the people of Bermuda balance all this out and keep Bermuda a place that we, and so many others love to visit, yet feel safe and welcome? I have no answers, but I offer that you consider that so many people truly love the place you call home, and your people too. I pray for you to be strong, united, and make wise choices for the future of a beautiful land and it’s people.

  6. Tom Adams says:

    An additional note in agreement to the comment by “Just a thought”, I have to say that by making affordable hotels, inns and B&B’s available you would open the door to more tourism dollars. Money is tightening up for everyone, from government down to each individual so decisions of how and where we spend our money are scrutinized more each day. Do I travel or stay home? Do we skip a holiday to afford repairs – or just save for a rainy day? Times are tough and there appear to be many rainy days on the horizon! Hope to visit soon though!