Pop and Fizzle?

According to the latest statistics from the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Bermuda tourism isn’t doing so well when compared against other competing islands.  The question that arises from such a realization is whether the “feel the love” and “pop and sizzle” campaigns really have had much of an effect and whether instead, tourism is pretty heavily tied to international business.

In the recent quarterly update from the Department of Tourism it was suggested that the downturn in tourism is due to the economic slowdown in the United States and rising fuel costs. 

Premier Dr. Ewart F. Brown, Minister of Tourism and Transport, said: “The first quarter visitor statistics reveal Bermuda is not immune to the economic slowdown in the United States.”

Fair enough.  It should come as little surprise to anyone that the economic downturn in the US and skyrocketing fuel costs would have an impact on local tourism. 

As is the case in other local travel sectors around the globe, there is an indication that the US economic slowdown is affecting travel patterns. In addition, factors such as the high cost of fuel have also had an impact on visitor arrivals.

Hold on just a second.  “As is the case for other local travel sectors around the globe”?  Let’s back up and examine this further by charting out the CTO’s latest statistics.

 

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Above is a chart of all of the countries who had valid data for Jan-Mar ’08 submitted to the CTO.  Note how of 21 destinations listed, only 6 showed negative growth in tourism.  Of which, note how Bermuda performed 3rd worst.  Does that sound to you like generally the Caribbean has been impacted by the downturn and rising fuel costs, at least in the first quarter?

To dig a little deeper as to why Bermuda is special, lets go back to the tourism quarterly update.

The economic slide had a trickle down effect on convention travel. Convention moved from 3,863 in 2007 down to 2,261 in 2008. However 2007 was an extremely high performance year for conventions with a 40.8% increase over 2006 due largely to business at the Fairmont Hotels. The 2006 figure was 2,744, more inline with this year’s first quarter performance in convention travel.

Comparing last years statistics to this years suggests that there were nearly 4100 fewer visitors and that the drop in convention travel accounted for nearly 40% of the overall drop in visitors.  This also suggests that nearly 2.5% of the overall increase in visitors for Jan-Mar last year were due to convention travel.

This raises a number of questions.  Namely if 2007 was heralded as a renaissance of tourism and yet a large portion of the increase was due to convention travel, what really was the impact of the various “feel the love” campaigns, the so called “faith based tourism” events and other tourism initiatives?  Does the increased affect of the downturn of Bermuda tourism but not so much elsewhere with regards to the downturn in the US market not also raise questions of how much of our ‘tourism’ is actually based on and reliant upon business travelers?

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The Last Lecture

For anyone who has not yet heard of and watched the highly inspirational presentation by the now passed Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, I highly recommend it. 

As a bit of a background, Randy was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago and decided to make his final lecture on achieving your childhood dreams and making the most of life.  It is a moving and inspirational piece.

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The impact of oil prices on Bermuda

Yesterday we looked at the impact that fuel and power inflation has had on Bermudian families.  What wasn’t made clear however, was that this only incorporates data up to May 2008 and doesn’t give a clear picture of the rest of the year let alone the time since May.  So lets do a little digging and see if we can extrapolate a bit of a better picture.

Here is a chart of fuel and power inflation since Feb 2006 as measured by the May 2008 Consumer Price Index report.  A point of note is that despite the suggested benchmark of April 2006 as being 100, calculated back from the May 2008 total put April at 102.8 so it is assumed January 2006 is 100 for the purposes of demonstration.

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Now lets compare this to oil prices as acquired from the US Energy Information Administration (www.eia.doe.gov).  We’ll use Cushing, OK WTI Spot Price FOB (Dollars per Barrel) prices as a rough benchmark.

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Now, the interesting thing to note here is that this doesn’t actually tell the real picture.  Bermuda, due to shipping duration, actually has to purchase it’s oil/fuel more than 2 months before it actually begins being consumed here.  As the Bermuda Sun suggests:

“Experts say that even higher prices are on the way – there is a two-month lag effect before the most recent jump in world oil prices impacts on the island.”

On top of that, the prices above are also for crude oil, not the refined diesel we burn for electricity or the gasoline we put in our cars which could cost even more due to refinement.  Add the cost of acquiring and importing the fuel and it’s even more expensive than the prices above. 

Lets take a look at the chart again, but this time lets delay the impact of the price of oil by 2 months. 

 

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Interesting huh?  Well, lets go a step further and note a few correlations.

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Note how roughly when oil goes up, so does inflation?  When oil goes down inflation either goes down or levels off?  It seems the two months delayed estimate is roughly accurate.

So, here’s the next question to ask yourself, what happens when the last 2 months worth of increases in the price of oil kick in?

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Fuel and power inflation

With the announcement of new statistics on poverty levels in Bermuda it might be good to take a look at the impact of inflation on households.

Here’s a chart of weekly fuel and power expenditure compared against family earnings levels.  It was composed out of taking expenditure data from the 2004 Household Expenditure Survey and combining it with data from the recent Consumer Price Index report.  Note that data for 2008 is estimated using May 07 – May 08 data.image

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Broken RSS

Unfortunately it’s been brought to my attention that my RSS feed has gone down.  Apparently the posts of proposed legislative changes caused the size to be too big which Feedburner would not accept.  As a consequence I’ve had to switch to summaries only in the feed for the time being.

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Party or government?

Who’s surprised that the announcement of the completion of a government study has been placed on the PLP’s web site before the actual government web site?  The sad blending of party and government continues. 

Some credit could certainly be given for the increase in the level of communication from government but on the other hand one could wonder what exactly we’re paying for.  Especially when you consider the host of communications consultants and public relations people that government keeps on staff. 

If government is intent on making all announcements via the party web site shouldn’t we be attempting to save money and cutting staff in the department of communications?  Certainly if we’re wasting money on the tourism dept in New York surely we’re also wasting it in communications.

While we’re on that tack note how recently there have a been a host of Ministerial statements placed up on the PLP’s web site yet the lack of updates on the web pages and sites of the actual ministries involved.   Friday alone features statements from Education, Health, Culture and Social Rehabilitation, Finance and the Premier.  Yet, is there a statement on the Education’s page on the government portal?  Nope.  How about the moed.bm web site?  Nope.  The Ministry of Health?  Nothing.  Culture and Social Rehabilitation?  You guessed it.  Surprisingly both of the Finance Minister’s statements made it, but none of the Premier’s. 

This preference for updating the party web site instead of the official government portal is ridiculous and leads one to wonder if our leadership has forgotten that they’re actually not the opposition.  Indeed, they can and should be making official statements via the official channels, not the party ones.  Then again it falls right in line with the public meetings that are supposed to be government ones but are announced and advertised as party meetings.

Sadly, the blending of party and government shows no sign of abating.

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A bit fat F for failure

Government’s performance with regards to informing the public of the status of the causeway has been downright abysmal for Tropical Storm / Hurricane Bertha and has earned it a failure rating in the eyes of this blogger.

  • No advance notice was given prior to the closure of the causeway.
  • An update made at 10:20am on the Gov.bm web site suggested that the causeway was unlikely to close, followed by an update at 12:45pm that the causeway was remaining open. 
  • No further update was made on the Gov.bm site despite the causeway actually being closed at 4:45pm.
  • No updates of the causeway status were provided by the Bermuda Weather Service’s web site.
  • The Royal Gazette, typically a reliable source of updates, had none with regards to the causeway.  If this is been a product of the Government’s boycott against the RG than it is terribly sinister of our leadership to put their own personal vendettas ahead of the safety of our people.
  • The Bermuda Sun was the only reliable source of information, even though it was sporadic at best due to the lack of uniformity of the various government sources, some who said it was closing, others who said it was not.

Supposedly the only frequently informed public relations outlet has been the radio stations which, if you’re stuck in an office without access to a radio, is absolutely useless.  Government’s FM 100.1 Emergency Broadcast Service is not streamed online, though it certainly should be and links to Hott 107.5’s feed don’t appear to work.

This situation is absolutely pitiful and serves as a very poor reflection on the performance of government.  Their lack of preparedness, lack of foresight and failure to preemptively announce a closure based upon weather forecasts suggests gross incompetence and presents a dire view of the risks we shall likely face should a more dangerous storm approach in the future. 

Update

While I’ve focused on what hasn’t been done, I note that I haven’t made any suggestions on how things could be improved for next time.  So here are some suggestions:

    • If the government is contemplating whether they will shut down the causeway it would be helpful to send out a notice of such.  For example, there were posts today on the Bermuda Sun around 3pm that suggested government was meeting to determine whether they’d close the causeway.  It would have been helpful if the government, at 3pm, had sent out a notice that they would be meeting to consider closing the causeway and that it is recommended that those from the East End who could be stranded should make their way there in case.
    • Government could and should post updates to their website far more regularly.  A twitter feed would be excellent for quick updates as a full press release each time is complete overkill.
    • Government could offer an RSS feed on their website for news and press releases to make it easier to stay informed
    • Government could establish a list of contacts including radio, papers, as well as blogs and send out updates to that contact list so they can have as many places updated with information as possible
    • Government could make consistent releases to all departments so that there aren’t the consistencies of one saying different from another when you call.
    • An initiative undertaken by a previous consultant to the Ministry of E-commerce should be followed through with:  that being to establish an emergency RSS feed that bloggers and Bermuda based websites can host that can be used in times of emergency for updates.  This way the government can get the msg out quickly.

I’ll post more if I think of them.  Feel welcome to post your own suggestions, especially if you’re frustrated after having gotten stranded on the wrong side of the island.

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The opaque UBP

A large part of what I am in support of are the much needed revisions to our governance to make it more transparent and more accountable.  Namely the greater transparency and good government the PLP promised before 1998 but never followed through with and the similar greater transparency and good government the UBP has been promising.  Without getting into the PLP’s failures in this regard I’d like to focus on the UBP and the hard time believing that if elected they’d be any different from the PLP in conveniently tossing such initiatives in the rubbish bin once they’d won.

Why do I doubt the UBP?  Well it all comes down to that old adage that you should practice what you preach.  As much as the UBP preached that they’d be transparent they haven’t proven it in practice.  Indeed, the party itself is still shrouded in secrecy with private meetings and behind the scenes decisions that no one knows about.  There is no participatory decision making nor is there any transparency and, as such, I think this hypocrisy adds one more reason why the UBP isn’t trusted.  Perhaps the UBP has the greatest ideas on the planet that they want to keep secret so that the PLP doesn’t steal them.  To such an argument I simply point to the last election where ideas didn’t win it.

If the UBP truly believes in transparency it should start putting its money where its mouth is and stop hiding behind tradition.

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Is he out of touch?

One could wonder, is this just another case of the spin doctor at work or can Premier Brown seriously not see the writing on the wall?   Premier Brown has again hit back at critics who have labeled him as elitist, arrogant and more obsessed with glitz and glamour than making a difference for the common man.  Yet, in doing so one could wonder if Premier Brown is simply pulling the same cards out of an already tattered bag of tricks or if he seriously believes that he isn’t growing further out of touch with the man in the street. 

Defending himself against critics, Premier Brown today pulled out the argument that people are only after him because he’s black.  Perhaps that argument worked well in the past but it is growing so thin a two year old could poke a hole through it.  Indeed, how many times can one cry wolf and still be heard by the people when the supposed wolves are his own party members?  Further, how many times can the ‘evil’ Royal Gazette be used as a scapegoat when it has been the Bermuda Sun that has been promoting these criticisms?

Does Premier Brown live up to his criticisms?  The answer to such a question lies in the minds of each individual Bermudian, however, polls are not swinging in Premier Brown’s favor.  When responding to a recent Research.bm poll, people’s responses suggest that support for the Premier is only 32% with 40% undecided.  Rather than accept that his support is nearly as bad as President Bush, Premier Brown breaks out the magic math trying to suggest that this means the majority actually support him.  He argued:

“If the 40 is broken down in the same ratio as the 60, right, I get enough to be over 50 percent, which I think is fabulous for a person that’s trying to change things.”

Sure, in the magical land of Oz where the wizard bestows some courage upon the cowardly lion that kind of logic might work, but here in the real world it fails to hold up much water.  Unless our Premier intends to hold a vote with no opponents, his logic doesn’t add up.  According to the poll, if our Premier was to stand against Deputy Premier Paula Cox his magic math would take her 71% approval rating up into the stratosphere and our poor Premier wouldn’t stand a chance.

Whether our Premier wants to admit it or not, there certainly are people both black and white who are not impressed with the way he operates.  While there are many who are struggling against skyrocketing inflation and can barely afford to even eat, our Premier is living the high life driving around in $90,000 cars, flying on private jets and staying in fancy hotels, all on the public dollar.   As Wayne Perinchief suggests, perhaps that’s just the way Premier Brown is, but for the man in the streets it only can last so long before they begin wondering where their piece of the pie is.  Especially when the men in the street are those who happen to defend it and they’re forced to watch while members of parliament take fat pay raises but they’ve been denied any kind of raise since all the way back in 2004.

With his legion of public relations personnel, personnel that only add up to more public dollars spent, one can only wonder if Premier Brown’s defense is steeped in simply a great deal of spin or if he really buys the tattered tricks he appears to be selling.  Premier Brown may or may not be correct in his defense against his critics, but at some point the same tired old arguments will likely grow thin.  Besides, there is no denying that Premier Brown revels in living the high life while the man on the street increasingly feels like his life is getting any higher.  So ask yourself, is our Premier out of touch?  The answer to such a question lies solely with you.

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UBP popularity, or lack thereof

Anyone surprised by the UBP’s poor ratings in a recent Research.bm poll likely also believed that 49% of the population supported them in the last election.  Today’s announcement that the UBP achieved only 30% support in a recent poll follows along the lines of a sentiment held by this writer since the election.  A sentiment that rather than having achieved 49% of the populace’s support last election, really it may well have been closer to 30% with the other 19% not so much supporting the opposition as instead simply voting against the incumbent.

One example of why support could be low are the many times this writer has heard people claim that the opposition have no teeth, and frankly, this writer agrees.  Take a recent quasi blog/press release made by Opposition Leader Kim Swan

“It is unfortunate that circumstances were allowed to get to the point where the Premier was forced to call today’s extraordinary meeting, but I see it as a sign that he and his government are simply out of touch with mainstream Bermuda. “

Yawn.  “Unfortunate”?  We had thousands of people rally to take a stand against government and the most inspirational thing Mr. Swan can come up with is unfortunate? 

“Economic conditions are worsening, and the sooner there is a government in place that understands the cost-of-living challenges facing workers the better for all.”

Isn’t the election already over?  If so, why does this statement sound like the UBP is still canvassing for leadership?  Teeth would work well here, as would the acceptance that they are the opposition for the next five years. 

“The frustrations expressed by workers are understandable: The Government pays no attention to them and, when it does, it behaves with callous disregard.”

It is nice that Mr. Swan chooses to use big words like callous disregard, but unfortunately it was necessary to be held up by a desk to stop from falling asleep while reading his piece.  As a mentor once suggested, people will quickly forget what you tell them but they’ll easily remember how you make them feel.  Mr. Swan would do well to focus more on firing people up than reminding them that they could have chosen the UBP in the last election.

Internationally recognized leadership expert John C. Maxwell once said “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”.  Inspirational words that hopefully shall inspire our opposition to think to the future and start leading.

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