Bermuda’s quest for mega cruise ships is reminiscent of the United States’ quest for corn ethanol. On the surface corn ethanol seemed like a great idea, a means to support domestic farmers, combat global warming while also providing for energy independence. Below the surface corn ethanol proved a horrendous boondoggle as the true impacts were not considered. What would happen when you take a staple food and apply much greater demand? How much energy truly goes in vs. comes out? What of the costs of infrastructure upgrades to support this new technology? In the end it wasn’t feasible. Similarly we may well look back on the introduction of mega cruise ships as a boondoggle as the actual impacts on Bermudian vs. expat job creation, investment vs. returns in local spending and the strains placed on our infrastructure are all considerations that were widely overlooked as we rushed to welcome mega ships with open arms.
One of the most telltale signs that the plans for mega cruise ships were rushed beyond what was necessary is to take a look at Cabo San Lucas. As noted in the photo above you’ll actually see a cruise ship anchored in the middle of a harbour. What was interesting about Cabo San Lucas was that there were no special docks made for cruise ships, they simply threw down anchor and ran ferries to and from shore.
Sadly the rush to create docks through special development orders, lack of planning permission and lack of environmental studies smacks of desperation. A desperation to boost the most touted yet most useless tourism metric going, visitor numbers. What Bermudians should really care about aren’t the total number of people we can flood on our roads and pack our beaches but dollars spent, for when it really comes down to it that is all that matters.
Mega cruise ships bring in those visitor numbers in large volumes. Volume visitors means we need to compete on volume, which means discount. It means cheap restaurants, cheap activities and cheap trinkets. All of which end up meaning we need to bring in workers who can be paid cheaply because Bermudians cannot afford to live on $8 an hour. Volume means pushing more business through the door for smaller profits. It means Bermudians suffer more to earn less.
This as opposed to what Bermuda could be targeting: exclusivity. Only small high end luxury cruise ships. No discounts, only high end tourists. We could increase the number of guest houses to not only give a higher quality product but also put more money in the hands of Bermudians rather than funnelling most of our tourism dollars to large multinational hotel conglomerates. Funny how we’ve done the opposite, guest houses have disappeared while we’ve rushed to build bigger and bigger hotels. Hotels which pay less, hire more foreigners and funnel profits overseas.
We could be turning Bermuda back into the quaint quiet safe destination it was. Yes it’s hellishly boring for Bermudians but we need to think big picture to see the greater returns to be had beyond our own entertainment. If we targeted high end with exclusivity we could charge high end. That means higher profits which means higher ability to pay. Higher pay means jobs Bermudians can actually appreciate without being disgusted at the low pay that ensures living like sardines packed in a can. Foreigners can do it because of the returns they’ll get when they go back home. Bermudians’ problem? This is our home.
It is time we took a serious look at is what in our best interests. Less is more as they say. Less visitors for more profits. Less people to serve for greater pay. Less foreigners taking up our homes, filling our streets and contributing to our social ills and more Bermudians with well paying jobs. It is time that we question the deeper implications of mega cruise ships and similar tourism ventures. Time that we question the actual impacts on Bermudian vs. expat job creation. Time that we ask what kinds of ridiculous sums we are investing and realistically, what is the timeline for a return on our investment? Time we considered the strains we’re placing on our infrastructure and truly stop to ask ourselves what is in our best interests? It is time we opened our eyes to the real implications of our actions and start demanding what is best for us.