America’s Cup sails through choppy political waters
It gave Bermuda’s economy an estimated $300 million boost and put the island on the global stage as it hosted the greatest sailing contest on earth.
Yet the America’s Cup ended up being anything but the silver bullet that could prolong the One Bermuda Alliance’s spell in power.
The OBA had every reason to celebrate when it was announced in December 2014 that Bermuda had won the right to host the showpiece event in 2017.
Bermuda shined brightly at the purpose-built Cross Island in Dockyard, with a 75 per cent increase in private jet passengers, 15 per cent increase in commercial air arrivals, 7.5 per cent increase in hotel occupancy rates and visits from 745 yachts, including 134 big-spending superyachts.
The economic results, revealed in a report by professional services firm PwC, showed the benefits were even better than expected.
PwC calculated a $336 million impact on the island’s gross domestic product, including $90 million predicted from tourism until 2022, generated by the worldwide exposure Bermuda received as host country.
It represented a 525 per cent return on the Government’s investment, which ended up being $12.9 million less than the forecast budget of $77 million.
But within a month of the America’s Cup’s conclusion, the OBA had been kicked out of government after a landslide General Election defeat.
Some Progressive Labour Party figures had refused to attend the America’s Cup, which they painted as an elitist event for rich, white people.
Shadow tourism minister Jamahl Simmons dubbed it a “Mickey Mouse” event, which he claimed would cost Bermuda more than $100 million.
David Burt, then the Opposition leader, who was among those who actually attended the event, contrasted its luxury with the struggle of ordinary Bermudians and argued it appealed to a narrow segment of society.
Economic development minister Grant Gibbons bemoaned that the America’s Cup had been politicised. Reflecting from the Opposition bench months afterwards, Dr Gibbons said: “I know the Government likes to talk about economic ripples, but what the PwC report found was that this was really a tsunami effect on Bermuda.
“In essence, hosting AC35 provided the economic boost, the so-called silver bullet that Bermuda needed to continue growing and restore confidence on Bermuda and in our island.”
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