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.