Is a tourism crisis looming on the horizon?

The following was sent in as a letter to the editor that is to have appeared in last friday’s edition of The Royal Gazette.  Unfortunately I could not find it online so I cannot provide a link.

Who out there is still reeling from the shock of the Southlands hotel announcement? Does it make sense to destroy some of the last truly historic representations of Bermuda for all generations to come in order to build a nice fancy 5 star hotel? Is it worth the sacrifice of our environment? Is it worth the strain on our infrastructure? Is it worth the extra cars on our roads, the extra people in our streets and extra ex-pats on work permits? Worse, what happens when we start to see the impacts of the new US passport requirements introduced in January?

“We don’t have any unemployment” claims Immigration Minister Derrick Burgess in a Feb 28th Royal Gazette article. If we have no unemployment, how are the hundreds of jobs of this proposed hotel going to be filled?

“If we do not have the capacity as a community to meet the work force demands of the construction … management and operation of the development …, we simply place additional stresses on our social infrastructure in the area of affordable housing, increased traffic congestion, additional stress on our already struggling health care system, increased crime and so on” suggested director of professional and career education at Bermuda College, Dr. Euginie Simmons.

Where are all of these extra workers going to be housed? A 10 Storey Housing Complex has been proposed as part of the plan. This when there are now more then 583 people on the housing waiting list, do we not have bigger concerns on our hands? If we must use special development orders and build 10 Storey housing complexes, why are we not using them for our people first and foremost? Why are we not solving the crisis at hand rather then taking the piecemeal approach of building housing that is barely affordable for many Bermudians?

“The intention is to take Bermudian staff to Jumeirah hotels overseas as part of their training programme so they can learn and match the high standards of the luxury hotel chain”, suggested one Royal Gazette article on the project. Who are these Bermudians? Who will be paying for the travel and training? How are they going to be convinced to live in the desert in 118 degree heat in order to get trained on working here?

Top CEO’s know to ask themselves a very simple question whenever they are approached with a new idea of how to do things better. “What problem does it solve?” Ask yourself this same question, what problem does this hotel project solve? Is it possible we’re creating a solution for which there is no problem? So much so that it needs to be rushed without following proper planning procedure that could result in a development worse then Berkeley?

Why do we need a new 5 star hotel? Why do we need 300+ new suites when we only have a short peak season and many days out of the year our hotels struggle to fill rooms? Again, are we creating a solution for which there is no problem? Bermuda needs to do more about tourism itself long before it gets more new rooms. It needs to improve the level of service at our present hotels. We need a better nightlife, better daytime entertainment, more activities and events to draw people here. How are we going to improve the attitudes of those working in our service industry? A casino isn’t the answer, its nothing new, it’s been done before and will only bring more problems.

What happens if the new US requirement for American citizens to have a passport to reenter the country causes a major drop in our tourist figures? According to an August edition of the New York Times, only 27% of Americans are believed to have passports. What happens if the vast majority who would have chosen to take a Bermuda vacation instead opt to travel within the US rather then go through the hassle of getting a passport?

“This is going to have a tremendous negative impact” said Roger Dow, president of the Travel Industry Association, which represents the nation’s largest airlines, hotels, cruise lines and car rental companies. “We’re going to have a chaotic situation upon us.”

Last year, 20 percent to 30 percent of cruise passengers used passports as documentation, with the rest using birth certificates or driver’s licenses, said Brian Major, spokesman for the Cruise Lines International Association.

According to Bermuda4u.com, in 2006, 298,973 visitors arrived by air and 336,299 by cruise ship. What happens if some 70% or 235,000 cruise visitors and 209,000 air visitors decide to travel locally in the US rather then putting up with the hassle of meeting the new passport requirements? If even 30% of our visitors don’t show up and tourism represents some 12.6 percent of our $4.857 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) like it did in 2005, that represents nearly $175 million that won’t flow into our economy this year alone. If as many as 70% opt not to get passports, that is more then $400 million or an 8.4% drop in our overall GDP. That amounts to more then $6000 for each of the estimated 65,000 people on our island that won’t be flowing into our economy.

Dr. Brown may be very pleased with his ‘banner year’ of arrivals (note that the figure is measured in ‘visitors’ and not tourists), which are up some 23.2% this year. However, one must admit that some things may be out of his control. Let’s roll back a year. Do you remember what happened to the Club Med deal? What happens if we have a large downturn in actual tourist arrivals and very suddenly Jumeirah backs out like KJA did?

Will Southlands be as fruitful as the web that is being weaved around it? Does it make sense to destroy some of our last truly historic representation? Is it worth the sacrifice of our environment, the strain on our infrastructure, the extra cars on our roads, extra people in our streets and extra ex-pats on work permits? Will we truly face a tourism crisis when we start to see the impacts of the new US passport requirements introduced in January? Time certainly shall tell.

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