Tourism, jobs seen as keys to Bermuda’s future success
The City of Hamilton is littered with shuttered buildings and other vacated commercial premises, some that once housed thriving businesses.
It is a visual indicator of the island’s economic troubles and a focus as parliamentary budget discussions begin.
For many years, tourists arrived here on jetliners in droves and stayed at hotels, ate at restaurants, hired taxis, danced at nightclubs, soaked up our beaches and drank-in Bermudian hospitality.
Hamilton retailer Marieka Carlington, who owns She Rebel on Court Street, remembered it well.
Her advice to the government in budgeting for a better Bermuda?
“They need to focus on tourism,” she said. “That is what Bermuda is about. I grew up in St George’s and tourism was flourishing.
“I stayed on York Street and watched thousands of tourists. We had no problem with mopeds parked everywhere and crowded beaches because no one was stressed.
“The tourists spent money everywhere – in the restaurants and other local establishments.
“Bermuda doesn’t even feel like an island any more. They don’t even rake the beaches.”
Bermudians once had jobs aplenty. Many had a second, a part-time job to pad household income. There was no unemployment and “food insecurity” was not a thing in Bermuda.
But that existence is no longer.
Bermuda’s churches have been called upon to feed a growing flock of hungry, and the international business community has been pumping millions into social programs and education scholarships.
Two of the largest hotels are closed and most of our visitors sail here on all-expenses-paid floating hotels.
Some of Bermuda’s troubles can be put down to a global pandemic. But long before COVID-19, tourism was declining and there were warning signs that the Bermuda way of life was eroding.
Some of it can be seen in government budgets.
The one last February told us that out of the fees, taxes and other revenue from the citizenry, the first $128 million will leave Bermuda to pay foreign lenders. We have been overspending for so many years.
But $128 million? Before we even fix the roads, pick up the trash, school the children, care for seniors?
And last week Friday, the government told us we’re still paying, but it has gone up this year to nearly $130 million.
We are not even paying the loan off. We’re just paying the interest. We are adding to the debt again this year.
But who will listen to legislators and their budget discussions in the coming weeks about their spending of the near billion dollars of our money?
Marieka told us: “I never pay attention to the budget. But I know what they should be doing. The money should go to fixing the roads and the schools.
“That should be number one. Not all these other things like street cameras that don’t work.
“They are not consistent with the upkeep of anything, it seems, and so it goes to waste. So then, we just go out and buy new ones.
“Like this whole thing with the buses makes no sense to me. It’s less people riding buses, but we are buying more. We should just fix the ones we have. They are wasting money.
“We should fix tourism and let any extra bus drivers go back to the hotels.”
A bartender told us he never kept up with politics or the budget, but he offered: “Helping with employment is always a good thing.”
A shopkeeper complained some people were out of work because they are lazy.
She lamented: “Some people refuse to make time to work, or don’t want to work when they’re supposed to.”
Most were far more sympathetic. One long time government worker, who insisted on anonymity said: “It’s been very hard on the people. This budget should help those looking for work, especially hotel workers.
“They are taking licks. Those employed are still working just three days a week – after two years.
“Some have responsibility to the bank, their families. There are issues with schools. What is the government going to do about all of that?
“Major hotels are closed. I feel sorry for the hotel worker. He’s taking a lot a licks.
“I got my mother, my wife and my son in the hotel business.”
Koji Aarú Hyde of Om Juicery on Elliott Street said so many people are stressed, there should be free-form, government reaching out with more holistic events.
She offered: “There could be holistic fundraising events to help people who have no money, give them a safe space.
“Help people commune with others, using maybe yoga, or chanting, or anything to lift the spiritual aspect of our body.”
Working in maintenance, carpentry and cleaning for most of his life, Richard Knights is not convinced there has been real improvement in employment.
“I know there are a lot of people out of work, just by so many businesses closing down. Your whole demeanour changes when you can’t find work and can’t pay bills.
“We need to get them functioning in the economy again, because people are getting depressed and giving up. That leads to crime. If government doesn’t do something, it’s going to get worse.”
Richard also wants more done to check on illegal workers. And he said: “Bermudians have to take some of these lower paying jobs being done by foreigners.
“They may not get the top wage they want, but if they negotiate, there may be some middle ground.
“The lower paid foreign workers make up their money by working a 60-hour week. They come here for one reason: to make money. You can’t blame them. They are doing what they can to improve things for their family.”
Meanwhile, two years into his pension years, Earlston said the government needs to do more about protecting pensions, because after contributing all of his life, he is concerned about any suggestion he won’t get all that he is owed.
He also complained: “They are taking a cut out of your money. They should be paying what they owe. You got people struggling and then expecting a certain sum and then it is reduced.
“Bermuda is getting worse. Things have been bad for some time. And they do what they feel like with your money. That’s not right.”