where there is no Starbucks

Stressed?  Need a vacation to get away from it all?  The busy life, the hectic streets, the so called rat race?  Come to the place where there is no Starbucks.  Take your next vacation in peaceful Bermuda.

Not too long ago I had an interesting thought.  Are we one of the only places in the world not penetrated by the Starbucks empire?  Starbucks, like McDonalds and other huge franchises seem everywhere, just not here in Bermuda.  In some ways Bermuda seems untouched from the rest of the world.  In others, we’ve bought into the flashy lifestyle, the expensive cars, the big screen TVs and the Louis Vuitton everywhere.  Bermuda still does hold some exclusivity and it is that which we should be doing our best to exploit to rebuild tourism.

A reader from the Caymans passed along an editorial in the Cayman net news asking the same questions of whether cruise is really worth it and if we should be taking a less is more approach to tourism.

From the editorial:

the [Cayman] government’s latest master plan to solve the imbalance in the tourism sector between relative numbers of stay-over and cruise visitors, as well as the high cost of getting and staying here, is to target high net worth individuals – to be the destination of choice for the rich and famous.

That concept may have worked when we were “the islands that time forgot”, and we had a distinctive quality that set us apart from our competitors.

However, time remembered us with a vengeance and within the space of a few short years brought us the fast-food franchises, hotel chains, and unbridled development that have gone a long way towards submerging our once unique identity in the concrete and traffic that anyone can experience in a zillion other places in the world.

Sounds a bit like Bermuda.  We’re lucky to have put a stop to fast food franchises years ago, but we do suffer from unbridled development in the form of Special Development Order after Special Development Order, with more to come.  Do you even need to be reminded about our traffic woes?  Solutions to which I’ve written on numerous occasions such as dedicated school buses, taxi-buses, rush-hour sensitive congestion taxes and car sharing.  

For years, the Cayman Islands seemed to have a unique formula for tourism success, targeting a very specific niche market that made up for its lack of volume with its disposable vacation income and generous spending habits.

They must have stolen this formula from old Bermuda for isn’t it what made Bermuda tourism a success? 

Cayman’s tourism formula was to attract a certain type of guest — and our visitors were made to feel more like guests back then — who did not mind paying a premium price for a Caribbean destination that offered safety, convenience and friendly hosts in a laid-back, uncrowded environment.

The visitors who were attracted to this kind of tourism product were usually high-earning professionals who primarily wanted to get away from their hectic lifestyles. These people didn’t really mind that there were not dozens of attractions to see, and in fact liked the fact that the Cayman Islands did not have the typical “tourist traps” of many other Caribbean destinations.

Does this sound remarkably like what I’ve been advocating for Bermuda to resurrect tourism?

To return to our headline question, is it too late – have we killed the goose that laid the golden stay-over tourism egg? Clearly, it’s impossible to turn back the clock and undo all the ill-considered development, so we are stuck now in the unenviable position of being a mini-Miami Beach, that’s much more expensive to stay in and to get to than the real thing.

For Bermuda it isn’t too late just yet.  Put an end to the SDO’s.  Improve what we have now.  Slow down.  Get rid of cruise ships.  Take a less is more approach.  Bring back EXCLUSIVITY!

Do we therefore continue the logical progression and try to turn ourselves into the next Paradise Island, with casinos and mass tourism? And what of the divers from all lifestyles that came back to the Cayman Islands year after year after year?

We already are an island paradise.  We’ve got some of the best diving in the world.  Some of most beautiful golf courses and one of the best beaches in the world.  We’ve got the location.  We’ve got the infrastructure.  We’ve got the resources. 

It may be too late for the Caymans, but it isn’t too late for Bermuda.

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Calling for a soft close

Bermuda’s economy is in big trouble.  Does that make sense?   Bermuda’s economy is booming.  Government revenue is up, tourism is up, and jobs are up.  Our GDP per capita rating is unmatched in the world.  So what’s wrong? 

It’s great to know our economy is booming, however the question arises of what happens when that growth is too fast?  What happens when inflation spirals out of control, when “affordable housing” isn’t affordable, affordable rentals are impossible to find and our infrastructure is stretched.  What happens when traffic gets worse and worse and we are hard pressed to keep control of the growth we have?  Is our booming economy as great then?

If our present growth is unsustainable and a stretch on our infrastructure, is it a good idea to let 82 more companies incorporate on the island this year like we did last?   According to the Department of Statistics latest job market report, there were 553 more non-Bermudian positions created in 2006 than in 2005.  That’s 553 more people coming to our island, filling our homes, driving on our roads, consuming our electricity and contributing to our waste.  While we do appreciate the contributions of our guest workers, at some point we do need to realize that too much growth is just not good for business, nor is it good for Bermudians.

In the world of finance there is a concept referred to as a “soft close”.  A soft close essentially means that you close to new business temporarily while you take the necessary measures to manage your present growth and better prepare your infrastructure to handle future growth for when you reopen.   A soft close for Bermuda would mean that Bermuda would no longer take on any new exempt company incorporations and would work with existing exempt companies to figure out ways to reduce the numbers of non-Bermudians required on island.  A less is more style approach.

In the interests of getting a better handle on our growth, would a soft close be a good option for Bermuda and it’s people?  Would it give us the ability to address our housing crisis?  Would it give us time to rethink our infrastructure and how it operates so that we can find a way to get more for less?  If we truly hope for a sustainable future for Bermudians, should we seriously be considering the possibility of closing to new business while we focus on ensuring we can manage the growth we have now.

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Empty promises no longer

In 1998 the PLP promised to update our antiquated corruption laws.  Some 9 years and a few scandals later, that promise has gone unfulfilled.  In 2003, the UBP also promised to update our antiquated corruption laws.  For 30 years they never deemed it necessary and only believed so when the PLP got into power. 

As Lord Acton once said, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  What is clear of these past decades is that neither party is able to withstand the draw of power and the belief that they can somehow be absolved of corruption.  They will promise to end and prevent corruption only amongst their foes for they themselves are righteous and without fault.

Here we find ourselves approaching another election and once again our people will hear empty promises from both parties of fixing our corruption laws.  Regardless of what occurred in the past, the greatest tragedy is that Bermudians may well be deceived again because we will sooner divide against one another one party lines before we will unify to demand what is right.

Regardless of who you intend or don’t intend to support this election, every Bermudian should be demanding today that we see the necessary changes to our corruption laws to ensure that no government is again allowed to take advantage of our people. 

We need to stand together to demand that our government fixes our corruption laws before the next election.

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Pot calling the kettle black?

Ask any heavy PLP supporter about the BHC allegations and they’ll use the old, “but they were exonerated”.  Investigations were carried out, noone was arrested and the best that people could come up with was that no illegal crime was committed.  Of course, some actions could be deemed unethical and due to our antiquated laws, they could have been deemed illegal, but weren’t.  So that’s it. Wipe your hands, sweep it under the rug, clear your mind.  Forget that BHC ever happened.  It wasn’t illegal, unethical maybe, but that doesn’t matter.  Only things that are illegal are worth pursuing.  Only things that are illegal deserve admissions of guilt.  Only things that are illegal deserve reparations.  There’s no need to update our laws to make these things illegal now because they weren’t illegal before.

This is where I draw the very striking line between BHC and another “not illegal, but unethical” practice.  Go back and reread the above paragraph replacing PLP with UBP and BHC with Slavery.

It wasn’t illegal, only unethical.  Does that make it right?

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Qualitative or Quantitative?

Oscuro Branson, a Progressive Minds blogger, has taken a few moments to comment on my concept of “less is more” when it comes to improving Bermuda tourism.  Rather than respond in the comments of his blog, I’ve chosen to respond here for I’ve found that my comments are sometimes filtered out despite adhering to the stated BLOG RULES.

In brief review, what is the less is more concept?  Very basically, due to our limited space, resource and capacity constraints, I believe that we should be striving for less tourists who spend more money.  In short, quality over quantity. 

It may seem counterintuitive, why would we want to turn away tourists?  The real issue comes when we examine how cruise visitors compare to air visitors.  At present, each air visitor spends approximately six times as much as each cruise visitor.  This means we need 6 times as many cruise visitors to match one air visitor.  The issue we have is that when you really get down to it, cruise visitors get more value for their money.  They’re offered a better Bermuda vacation than air visitors and that is what truly is counterintuitive.

Take my 3 friends I have visiting the island this week.  Two are staying in a hotel at some $350 a night and one is staying with me at my place.  I decide to take them by a few of the sights on the island and show them a little about the island.  I take them by Tobacco bay because it is one of the closer beaches to where I live and was always a childhood favorite of mine.  Unfortunately, the cruise ship being in means that the beach is so packed that there is barely room to lay down a towel let alone walk to the water.  I felt ashamed that I’d even shown them the beach because it was clear that we’d stuffed it so full of cruise visitors that the chances for my friends to relax and enjoy the beach that I love were slim. 

I decide to show them the nightlife and subsequently take them out to the Pink Party at some $50 a ticket that was on at Snorkel Park on Saturday.  When it came time that they’d had enough and wanted to leave, we went out to catch a taxi back to Hamilton, only there were none.  We called a taxi company and ordered one.  More waiting, still nothing.  We decided we’d try walking out a ways to see if one were to come that we could pick it up before the many other people waiting.  Still nothing.  Of about an hours waiting, not one taxi came through.  Again, I was ashamed that my friends were being shown a poor time for their money and there was little I could do about it.

My friends decided to go out to lunch and later told me about it.  Unfortunately the restaurant was so packed that service was terrible.  While the waiter was friendly, food took over an hour to arrive and my friends were starving.  When I was told this, again I was ashamed that we had packed our restaurants so full with cruise visitors that my high paying friends couldn’t get reasonable service.

Then I think of the stories I hear from tourists at guest houses and hotels.  Ones where they’ve waited an hour or more for taxis that don’t show up.  If you were to go to where the cruise ships are, the taxi’s line up in wait to serve cruise visitors.  Then you can talk to those air visitors who’d like to go out on a catamaran cruise, rent some jetskis, or swim with the dolphins and again I hear that often times they show up and there is no availability.  “We’re sorry, we’ve already guaranteed all our spots to the cruise ship”.  In the times that I am told these stores I am ashamed at the quality of our tourism product.  Especially considering that these people are spending hundreds a night in a hotel while cruise visitors get priority.

The very crux of the problem is that we are not a volume based destination.  We’re a tiny island of limited resources.  We don’t have a great number of taxis, we don’t have a great number of restaurants and we don’t have 100 mile long beaches.  When we let cruise passengers come in and run the show, the quality of vacation for our air visitors suffer.  Air visitors who are contributing 6 times more money to our economy are treated with second class service to cruise passengers.   Why do we do this?  Where is the benefit when the increase in air visitors from 2006 over 2005 alone nearly equaled the amount of money that cruise visitors spent in 2005.

It may be a hard concept to understand, but less really is more when it comes to Bermuda tourism.  By offering more exclusivity and better quality of service, we would be free to increase our prices.  Air visitors would be willing to spend more money for a visit to Bermuda if it was more exclusive.  That is if they were guaranteed quiet and unpacked beaches.  If they got quick and reliable service from taxis, activities and restaurants.  If they got a high quality vacation overall that you just cannot attain anywhere but in Bermuda.  Air visitors shouldn’t have to compete with cruise in these regards.  There are a great many destinations who cater to tourists en mass.  We should be the destination where you get what you pay for

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"Oh, we don’t serve St. David’s"

For us St. David’s folk, we’re not important enough to deserve decent service when it comes to transportation.  Try taking a bus outside daytime hours and you’ll quickly find that they stop at about 6pm.  Try taking a taxi, and they’ll tell you they’ll send one.  Two to three calls later and they tell you that they called a taxi in St. Georges who refuses to go to St. David’s.

I have lost all respect for taxi drivers.  While some are friendly and nice, those who refuse a fare based upon discrimination against those who live in St. David’s is ridiculous.  It happens far too often.

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How America counts graduation rates

A reader wrote in the following summary of how American graduation rates are calculated.  Interestingly they seem to be in direct contrast to how Bermuda’s new calculations are performed.

In 2005 governors of all 50 American states signed the Graduation Counts Compact and committed to a common method for calculating each state’s high school graduation rate. In addition to agreeing to a common formula for calculating the graduation rate, the governors committed to leading efforts to improve state data collection, reporting, and analysis; reporting additional indicators of outcomes for students; and reporting annually on their progress toward improved high school graduation, completion, and dropout data. The governors undertook this commitment because they understand the imperative to gather more accurate, comparable data on how many of their students graduate from high school on time.

The States agreed to calculate the graduation rate by dividing the number of on-time graduates in a given year by the number of first-time entering ninth graders four years earlier. This is very different from the abbreviated accounting now used by Bermuda which shows a higher graduation rate.

The Graduation Counts Compact can be found here: http://www.nga.org/portal/site/nga/menuitem.9123e83a1f6786440ddcbeeb501010a0/?vgnextoid=f57c04493f5bc010VgnVCM1000001a01010aRCRD

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Electric scooters alone won’t solve the problem

The Royal Gazette has an interesting article on the island’s oil reliance due to the heavy rise in inflation, something I touched on only weeks ago.

The article focuses on things we can do to reduce our reliance on oil with one mention being acquiring an electric scooter.  Unfortunately while purchasing an electric scooter seems like a great idea, it really accomplishes little as long as the electricity to power it still needs to come from Belco which burns diesel fuel to generate it.  It does however identify the need for other means to reduce our consumtion through the encouragement of and elimination of duty for solar water heaters and solar panels, as suggested by local environmental group Greenrock.

There are many other things that could be undertaken to reduce our overall carbon impact along with our oil consumption.  As one example, government could be banning the importation of incandescent light bulbs.  According to a lab test conducted by Popular Mechanics, Compact Florescent Light bulbs “use about 70 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs.”  Imagine what kind of impact such a ban would have on our overall electricity consumption.  Such bans have already taken place in Australia and California and is something I covered briefly back in February.

Individuals and even storeowners could be doing their part as well.  Each could also consider the acquisition of an eCube to reduce refrigerator consumption.  In a traditional refrigerator, whenever you open and close the fridge, the cool air in the fridge is released as warm air from the room rushes in.  This despite the fact that your items still such as your milk or beer still remain cold.  This is due to the temperature sensor in most fridges which measure air temperature as a means to decide when the fridge should be cooling or not.  When the door opens, the fridge thinks it needs to turn on and thus kicks in the condenser unit, often far more often than it truly should and especially in the case of stores.  The eCube acts to simulate the temperature of the stored products rather than the air around them and thus ensures that the fridge does not run unnecessarily and could serve as a great means to reduce refridgerator consumption.

Belco could be doing more of it’s part as well.  The proposed underwater turbine is a good first step, but it’s largely untested and unproven.  It also will only supply a small portion of the islands overall needs.  Another consideration would be to offer the ability for people with solar panels and other home oriented power sources to contribute excess electricity into the grid in times that their home consumption is low.

Belco could also be looking into other technologies besides the underwater turbine.  One thing that I’m keen on are algae bioreactors.  A company called GreenFuel technologies produces a bioreactor that works to extract carbon dioxide, a key contributor to global warming, from smokestacks and subsequently uses it to grow algae.  Algae can then be used to create biofuels such as biodiesel or hydrogen to power hydrogen fuel cells.  Rather than releasing carbon dioxide in the air from the Belco and Tynes bay smokestacks, we could be working with companies like GreenFuel to not only reduce our carbon impact but also produce fuel which can be used locally.  Further, we could be trying to invest in the development of algae (or seaweed) farming locally in order to boost our abilities to produce fuels locally and become more foreign oil independent. 

Another key step is that we could be looking to better utilize the ash created by the Tynes bay smokestacks.  Rather than sinking it into cement blocks, we could instead be using it as a fertilizer to improve our ability to create produce locally.  Ash when mixed with soil actually works as a great fertilizer and the ash produced from the incinerator could be investigated as a source.

There are a great many activities we could be undertaking to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and reduce our carbon footprint.  We simply need to start thinking out of the box and ensure that we have a government who is willing to put more emphasis on our future rather than only focusing on the past.

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Cherry picking education numbers

So its not an “education crisis” as long as you don’t count drop-outs?

The source said that the Ministry of Education previously measured the graduation rate by comparing the number of passes against a starting group of students, which included some who had moved from the Island, gone to other schools or dropped out of the system.

“We were so bad at calculating data before that I know the rate was deflated,” they said.

“Students were counted that were no longer in the system; students that had withdrawn or gone to other schools. We were never in the deepest of crises that we were led to believe.”

Thanks to an earlier post on the education numbers, I dug up an article (School statistics flaw corrected) from back in January that said:

Schools have now been equipped with the means to track where a student comes from when they enter the school system, and when they exit.

Recalculating the graduation rates without subsequently providing the details of how many dropped out is cherry picking the numbers so that you get the result you want rather than the real picture.

Give us a breakdown of

a. How many left the island and have not returned

b. How many transferred schools

c. How many dropped out.

A drop-out is a fail to graduate and reflects the education systems failure to educate and prepare young Bermudians.   It is absolutely critical that we know how many are dropping out.  A 50% drop out rate is just as critical as a 50% failure rate because it ultimately means that 50% of Bermudians are not being properly educated. 

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The Louis Vuitton of tourism

It’s no secret that Bermudians love Louis Vuitton.  Pay 10 times the price for a product of the same quality simply because of it’s name and recognized brand.  Somehow buying someone else’s name makes your own image seem more reputable.  As my father always tells me, “Son, you get what you pay for” and you can’t argue with the fact that with Louis Vuitton what you’re paying for is branding and exclusivity.

Compare Louis Vuitton’s approach to the one we use for Bermuda tourism.  We’re pandering to the lowest denominator in order to tout the highest “arrival” numbers while not paying attention to what really matters: $$$.  Cruise ships and discount tourists are our business as we think we can compete with the rest of the Caribbean in this market.  It’s saddening.  Ask most Americans what they think of Bermuda and their likely response is “who?  Oh, you mean one of those Caribbean islands?”, though we’re not even in the Caribbean.  To the outside world and those who haven’t witnessed the beauty of our tranquil waters and uniqueness of our architecture and culture, Bermuda is just another island.

The Bermuda I dream of is one that is like the Louis Vuitton of tourism.  I dream of Bermuda being a name so reputable and exclusive that when someone says they went to Bermuda on vacation, jaws drop open in disbelief and envy.  Bermuda should be prestigious, exclusive and the place where everyone wishes they could be and are willing to pay a premium to say they were here.

As I’ve said before, cruise ships are not the answer.  Cruise ships are like Louis Vuitton introducing a wal-mart line of products.  If Louis Vuitton carried a wal-mart line that anyone could buy, it would kill the exclusivity of the brand.  Cruise ships make Bermuda accessible to the “wal-mart” of tourists.   There is of course nothing wrong with the “wal-mart” class of tourists, only that they’re further down the long tail.  Making money on the “wal-mart” class requires targeting large volumes for little profits.  This model works perfectly in large Caribbean destinations but on our tiny little island, we’re easily strained.

Today most hotels are packed with foreign workers.  Why?  Because the profits are so slim that you can’t pay people very well and thus the demands of the jobs are not attractive for Bermudians.  Our cost of living is already high enough.  If we were the Louis Vuitton of tourism, the exclusivity and quality of product offered would allow us to charge 10 times the price of other accessible destinations of similar quality.  Being the Louis Vuitton of tourism means we can greatly increase our profit margins while decreasing the overall numbers of tourists.  If our profit margins were larger, we could pay our people more.  If we attracted high rollers, it would be lucrative to work in the tourism industry rather than a struggle.  Bermudians would have options other than international business again.