Communication breakdown

Deep into the age of the internet and social media it is appalling to read this regarding the trash issues yesterday:

Asked if the ministry would be able to inform the public about delays in trash collection more quickly, Mr Cannonier said the nature of the mechanical problems often made it difficult.

We have access to cheap abundant communications technology like twitter, facebook, websites, cellphones and yet the government still doesn’t seem to have a handle on it.  If we had no budget dedicated to communications this might make sense, so maybe we should check that.

Oh, ok then, it seems we only spent just over $6 million on IT, $2.4 million on “Communication” and $1 million on “E-Government”.  For $9.4 million dollars you certainly couldn’t expect that there’d be any resources for someone to post a tweet now would you?   Of course not.

The really sad reality is that this writer tried to explain social media to our government and opposition back in 2006.  The lack of movement was actually the catalyst for this blog.  Then e-commerce minister Michael Scott was wholly supportive of the ideas presented and eager to see them spread through government.  However a meeting with the top civil servants in the Telecommunications and E-commerce ministry resulted in proclamations that they were already working on pretty much every idea presented and no help was required, thanks.

A similar presentation was done to most of the UBP of the day outlining how blogs work as well as evangelizing social media.  While people liked the ideas, no one took any of it on, including then shadow for communications Jahmal Simmons.  Later in a meeting with Michael Dunkley, who has now become Premier, attempts were made to convince him the value of social media and how one can reach the people with it.  He was adamant at the time that face to face was the only viable means of communication. “Elections are won on the doorstep” he said, not too long before he lost his seat in parliament when he challenged Patricia Minors.

Thankfully Premier Dunkley has since embraced facebook, twitter and other social media as have many other members of parliament and island leaders.  The question remains however, why can’t they use it to tell us our trash won’t be picked up, and better yet, why?

Less is more, as always

It is far easier to add than remove, to replace than repair, to buy new than reuse.  In Bermuda we have an unfortunate cultural bias towards it, we prefer to throw money at problems rather than trying to address their root cause.  A perfect example are departure taxes and airport fees.  On one hand we hike them and on the other we throw the money at the problems it creates.  It creates tremendous waste as we just add more confusion, process and bureaucracy.  Sadly we rarely take a step back to simplify and streamline our efforts.

Today we see an example in The Royal Gazette highlighting Bermuda as having the second highest airport taxes in the Caribbean region of destinations.

This year the Bermuda Government has increased airport taxes and charges faced by passengers. In March, the departure tax was raised from $35 to $50. This was followed in August by a further hike that has taken the maximum total departure tax to $78, including a $16 airport improvement fee.

At the same time we’re talking about building a new airport and levying even more fees on travelers to our island.  We then turn around and provide capacity guarantees back to the airlines to try to make their routes profitable.  On top of that we keep throwing money at promotions, events, marketing and a huge tourism authority that doesn’t seem to bump numbers.

One of the biggest problems we face as a tourism destination is providing value for money.  In order for any business to be a true success one needs to provide value equal to or greater than the cost of the good or service it offers.  Too few people understand this.  The core value proposition in tourism is in offering a quality experience.  People are happy to pay if they feel they will gain an experience worthy of their money.  Bermuda sadly offers poor value for money.

When we jack up our taxes and fees we increase the cost for visiting without necessarily improving the value of the experience we provide for visitors.  Jacking up fees and then providing kickbacks to the airlines does nothing for the experience, if anything it tarnishes it and makes it harder for us to justify the experience we do offer.  How will building a fancy new airport provide an improved experience that will justify the massive increase in fees?  The problem is it likely won’t, but we love to throw money at symptoms of problems rather than try to address the root causes.

Do you want to know a simple and cheap way of improving an airline visitor’s experience that would cost us very little?  Rather than having a bunch of airport staff standing around and gawking at you when you walk down the stairs off the plane, have them do something to improve the experience.  Have people greeting passengers, welcoming them to the island, shaking hands.  Have them offer to help with carry-ons and hand out umbrellas when its raining.  It would do more to offer a unique experience than a fancy airport with modern jet ways.

I’ve traveled all over the world to airports in Paris, London, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur and the most memorable airport arrival was in the Dominican Republic.  The airport itself was in poor shape and under renovation.  It was hot and uncomfortable.  Despite this, I look back fondly on the experience and still talk of it because of a couple very simple things.  When you got to the immigration line they gave out free samples of rum and had incredibly personable immigration staff who joked with me, knew a bit about Bermuda and asked me that next time I bring them a bottle of Bermuda rum.  It was a memorable experience, the kind we should be offering.

Rather than have passengers stand in a traditional cattle queue immigration line we could offer something different.  Put some couches in the area.  Offer a ticketing system and allow people to leisurely wait their turn.  Go back to having nice music playing in the arrivals hall like we used to and have a few local vendors offering samples of Bermuda wares and foodstuffs like rum cake.  Up-sell excursions and experiences while people wait.  The costs would be minimal, the value add would be immense.  We could do the key thing we need to do with regards to tourism: improve average visitor spending numbers.  But it is unlikely we’d do it.

Sadly in my years of writing I’ve become a cynic.  I doubt we’d be able to make these sorts of changes and focus on streamlining things rather than going for new.  It is far easier to put together a committee or task force that decides to throw money at problems.  There is far less risk in showing that big action was taken through a big new initiative because it is far more glamorous than cleanup work and a lot less risky to reputation but less likely to achieve results.  I hold out faint hope that we could be different but won’t hold my breath.  We should be focusing on the core value proposition of improving the quality of our experiences, not throwing money at the big and bold.  Less it more, but sadly more is far easier than less.

Representative democracy doesn’t work

Today’s Royal Gazette article “Same-sex union support would cost OBA votes” illustrates how representative democracy doesn’t work anymore.  It doesn’t matter if you are for or against the issue, the majority opinion is likely to be discarded in favor of the incumbent protecting political power.  It is the sad reality of our political system that these sorts of controversial issues continue to consume public attention when more pressing concerns fall to the wayside.  The responsibility of deciding these issues should be placed directly in the hands of the people rather than being endlessly fumbled and avoided by incumbent politicians.

The incumbent can’t be faulted for their aversion to tackling controversial issues.  We’ve seen it with both parties as it is the nature of politics on our little isle.  Our political system takes a well meaning opposition and turns it into a raging territorial beast.  We end up with a government more focused on protecting political power than serving the people it is supposed to represent.  Is the the sad reality of politics today and one reason why many are so disillusioned.

Democracy as it exists today is flawed and in many ways obsolete.  It was designed for a time when we wanted to advance ourselves beyond monarchist rule but were limited by distance and means of communication.  In the modern age of a connected world it makes sense for us to evolve our form of governance to involve the people more. The burden of controversial issues should be lifted from politicians and placed directly in the hands of the people.

Our focus should be on righting our sinking ship.  Yet instead we consume ourselves with controversial issues like gay marriage, conscription and marijuana.  It needlessly distracts the people and our politicians for we never have an answer.  The answer should be easy, put the decision to the people by way of a referendum.  Politicians would be free to voice their opinion or abstain.  Allow the decision to be binding and restricted from being voted upon for 5 years.

Without a referendum we are guaranteed to be plagued by these endless distractions that prevent our progress and ensure our demise.  Our politicians don’t have the testicular fortitude to deal with these issues directly so we need to relieve them of the need to do so.  It is time for our democracy to evolve.  The responsibility of these decisions should be placed directly in the hands of the people so we know exactly who is accountable for the ultimate result.