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Heritage and tourism: ‘Time's mutations'

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It was said in the early 1940s that

government has always pursued policies which have tended to preserve the peace, charm and amenities of the islands, not only for the purpose of attracting visitors...but because the preservation of such amenities is essential to the Bermuda way of life. In other words, the preservation of peace (social order), charm (perhaps combination of natural resources and the friendliness of Bermudians) and amenities (heritage resources, accommodation and activities) was not only good for bank accounts (personal and government), but for a sense of wellbeing and identity for local residents of the island. How have 'time's mutations' affected that policy in recent times and the wellbeing of Bermuda's tourism economy? One would think that nothing had changed, as a recent mantra of the vital tourist trade sought to entice the visitor to Bermuda to 'feel the love', which on the surface of the expression appears to continue the policy of the 1940s and a couple of following decades. However, the smart business person sells hopefully what is true, but it would seem that feeling the love may falter in Bermuda tourism the moment one arrives at the airport or dockside. Back in 1971, on his honeymoon, a visitor did feel the love, not only one presumes from Mrs X, but from all at Bermuda. On his 200th visit, he opined in a Letter to the Editor

(The Royal Gazette, February 1, 2012): 'There have been some changes, don't you think?' Unusually, the entire letter was stamped out in bold text, so perhaps the Editor thought that that frequent visitor had something to say of extra value. Opening with a broadside salvo to Bermudian consciousness, Mr X of Atlanta suggests that there has there been 'a real disturbing, debilitating, fundamental change in Bermuda and the character and attitude of its people'. He goes on to state that his greeting at Immigration at the airport 'was a bit frosty' and included an interrogation as to 'Why are you here?' and 'How long will you be here?'. That 'feel the love' cake was coldly frosted over by a taxi driver who was unwilling to carry out travel details requested by Mr X. Poor Mr. X. should not have had to write: 'Might I suggest that these frontline, uniformed people and taxi drivers take a course in 'simple courtesy'?' He then reminds us that a leading local hotelier once told him: 'All we have to offer is the sun in the sky, the beauty of our place and the smile on our faces'. Mr X might have been told on arrival that 'common courtesy' is as rare as 'common sense' and the Cahow today, at least in some parts and among some residents of the Island. Herein lies one of the central issues that should be addressed in the National Tourism Plan, for the people of Bermuda are essential to the success of any such scheme, even if many have now been taught that 'tourism is dead' and by association, that tourists and all associated with the trade do not really matter. It is easy to be rude to visitors, if you think they do not matter to you or your lifestyle. Those in authority a couple of decades ago were wrong when they began to compare Tourism with 'International Business' and to shriek with delight when IB overtook Tourism in gross money terms, etc., etc. While that might have sounded good to bankers and others, it was an unnecessary and unintelligent comparison that had (and has) the unintended consequences of disparaging all those who worked in the tourist trade. Ultimately, as we now see (and are paying a substantial price for), it has perhaps helped to create some of the serious decline in the visitor economy, upon which the majority of Bermudians, working and otherwise, depend. So time and stupidity appear to have mutated our mindset with regard to our visitors. With the open hostility displayed by some against many fellow Bermudians and residents on this rock, we are mutating from Twain's heaven to a potential hell in paradise. Bank accounts cannot feel the love, nor do they know of courteousness. Mutations caused by cultural and social causes, however, can be reversed, so perhaps we need some rehabilitation courses for many in Bermuda as a part of the National Plan for Tourism. That instruction would perhaps allow us to regain a slice or two more of the top international business, being tourism, based in part upon our once-proud, but hopefully renewed reputation, as the 'friendliest people on Earth', or at least in romantic island tourism. People are of course the hull, mast and sails of Bermuda's heritage vessel, without which we would turn the island back to the Cahow, other birds and bees, and an occasional pig. It is people who have significantly altered the natural landscape and heritage of this place and it is they that have created the most significant built heritage of the island. It is they that must be engaged in the preservation of heritage, for that action is dependent entirely on the goodwill and actions of people. It is difficult, if not ultimately impossible, for people to be mindful and to preserve heritage unless there is leadership at the top. Leaders in all walks of life, including 'International Business', should send signals to the populace that all facets of the heritage of this unique place must be preserved. They should promote the concept that that preservation is wedded to the wellbeing of Bermudians and all who here reside, and to the preservation and enhancement of the vital visitor trade to this isolated place. Good manners equate to good money in your bank account. The preservation of the remaining natural heritage of Bermuda and its shipwrecks, fortifications, domestic architectural monuments, the Town of St. George's and City of Hamilton (what is still extant), the great Royal Naval Dockyard, and all the other monuments around and about, like Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, is the saving of resources that should be considered essential to a vibrant visitor trade. If properly exploited, those heritage assets could provide the solution to filling hotels in the winter months, so let's ensure they are included in the National Tourism Plan. And by the way, next time you do not greet our visitors with a real sense of making them 'feel the love', try and think how many Bermudians you could be putting out of work (including yourself) by continuing to lay the foundations of dislike, concreted in by discourtesy. Few visitors, unlike our Mr X, will bother 'to tell you about yourself', but rather will vote with their feet and smiles, perhaps to a place where it is advertised that 'It is better in The Bahamas', although the murder rate of 127 last year somewhat exceeded ours. It is said that 'word of mouth' is the best form of advertising. However, we should be reminded that bad news out of our mouths will go viral and global at the press of a button in this Internet age, so easily can that best form turn into the worst of advertising. Mr X did us a service by writing his letter, but nowadays it can be read around the globe.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director[AT]bmm.bm or 704-5480.

Fay & Geoffrey Elliott Collection, Bermuda Archives A panorama of the heritage of early Hamilton by Thomas Driver
Oceanic heritage in the west, blessed by a double rainbow on a blustery day.
Some of our ancestors, being the crew of a whaling boat, probably at the East End of Bermuda.
Fay & Geoffrey Elliott Collection, Bermuda Archives Thomas Driver recorded some geological heritage in the Bailey?s Bay area
Children enjoying the heritage views from the veranda of Commissioner?s House
The iconic church of Holy Trinity in Hamilton Parish, built of classic Bermuda stone.