Don’t give up on our tourism product
I appreciated your May 12 editorial, “Doing the unthinkable”, and want to expound on two aspects of it to zero in on what the tourism and hospitality industry — specifically restaurants — may look like in the near future.
First, your opinion stated: “So these will be desperate times for many. Presumably some non-Bermudian workers will leave, which would reduce the pressure on the public purse, but the economic ramifications of a drop in the working population are profound and long-lasting, as Bermuda already learnt after 2008.”
When I read this, I immediately thought, “Start preparing Bermudians to fill these positions as soon as possible.” But upon further contemplation, it became clear that it’s not enough to launch a targeted training regime. That won’t fix the inherent issues that exist in the local hospitality industry, from the lens of Bermudians.
There are a myriad of reasons — for example, pay, seasonality, hours — why Bermudians shy away from employment in the hospitality sector, specifically restaurants. Certain longstanding factors make it unattractive and at times untenable, even, to lots of Bermudians. So there needs to be a major shift in the industry’s environment, culture and genetic code, if you will. But that is no easy task.
Just look at how much angst and division there is over setting a minimum/livable wage, which speaks directly to a key component of this industry’s existing construction. I don’t see the necessary changes taking place by next year, when we hope to be welcoming tourists or at least entertaining dine-in options for residents.
In fact, I’m leaning towards Khalid Wasi’s estimate expressed in his May 11 column, “Recovery and relief — spot the difference”, of “at least a two to three-year slump in tourism”. Unless a comprehensive plan including all stakeholders is set forth and pursued vigorously, it is likely Bermuda will be calling for any who do leave the island to fly right back here at that time.
Second, your opinion stated: “This means that few of the 4,400 people who work in hotels and restaurants, not to mention those who work in tourist retail or tourism-related services such as tours or transport, will be in work.”
While it is a needed starting point, it is not enough to simply know how many of these 4,400 work in the hotels and restaurants, and how many are foreigners. I agree the likely exodus of workers will be far inferior to what we saw around 2008, but to determine how much opportunity exists, we need to envision what the post-pandemic industry will look like. If we predict it will largely contract, then there will be no void, ie, job positions, to fill.
There are four main reasons it will likely contract — before hopefully expanding:
1, Lack of arrivals: there’s no telling when tourist, or even business, arrivals will return to normal, and these individuals, especially tourists, are the only things that keep hotels and restaurants in business
2, Ageing population: simply put, the older one gets, the less likely they are to stay in hotels and/or dine out.
3, Declining population: with an ageing population, a declining birthrate, immigration reform moving at crawling speed, and no solid plan to repatriate those Bermudians who have found it more suitable to live off-island, there is absolutely no way our population can grow. And fewer people means fewer services needed
4, Remaining population: with such a dire economic outlook, times ahead are going to be difficult, to say the least. There will be far less dollars floating about and, resultantly, far less disposable income. Those who are left to tough it out are not great enough in number to sustain our economy. Unless progressive changes come soon, the present trend of businesses closing up shop will intensify — with Swizzle Inn on South Road being a prime example
Unless we are presented with a stimulus package, recovery plan, third pillar or whatever other term you can coin to bring us “back from the brink”, we are destined for economic doom, and I daresay national irrelevance. While a third pillar is optimal, I cannot envision a Bermuda where tourism is not a mainstay. So, despite what other initiatives are in place, we should target an expanded outcome for the tourism industry.
The optimist in me — and I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment — believes that tourism will return to and even surpass the heights of recent years. After all, since the installation of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, we have been by and large on an upward trajectory. But in order for this to happen, we must be proactive and purposeful in our approach towards creating an environment conducive to maximising Bermudian employment in the tourism and hospitality industry so that guests are given a truly Bermudian experience as much as possible.
There is a saying that before the door is opened, one should be ready to walk through it. This opportunistic mindset is needed now more than ever. We can control what visitors to this island find on the other side of the door.
Before the time comes, we must be prepared to present them with the best Bermuda product, as they are best placed to promote and market Bermuda to the world once they leave our shores.
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