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Tourism authority

Outgoing Elbow Beach general manager Frank Stocek’s comments on the state of tourism were very similar to those given by Norman Mastalir and Jonathan Crellin when they left the Princess hotels earlier this year.

All said Bermuda had strengths, but the high cost of doing business and the lack of a “game changing” feature made it hard to compete with other destinations. One thing that almost all hotel operators, and almost everyone else in what’s left of the tourism industry private sector are united on, is the need for a tourism authority.

This was something Wayne Furbert, the new Tourism Minister, supported when he was in the United Bermuda Party since it was a part of that party’s platform for at least the last three general elections when he was still a member. And if there’s one reason to be in favour of such a move, it’s that the evidence is compelling that politicians have now proven that they are simply not up to the job, which should be left to the professionals in the field.

This is no slight on politicians, believe it or not. And it is likely that if a tourism authority was created there would still have to be a Minister in the trade development role that has now been created for tourism and international business with some overall responsibility for the job.

But tourism is by its nature a dynamic industry in which change can come very quickly, and it should now be obvious that is not suited to being led by politicians or managed by Civil Servants. This is not a slight to the current Director of Tourism, Billy Griffiths, who came to the job from a background as a hotel manager, but that should almost always have been the case.

Marketing Bermuda has almost always been one of the Ministry of Tourism’s major functions, but the fact that the Ministry has gone for the best part of a year without an advertising agency speaks volumes. And even the Throne Speech only says that a new tourism brand will be launched.

There are other elements of tourism that the Ministry is currently responsible for. These include the encouragement of new hotel properties and their licensing and regulation. Much of this work could be done with more energy by the authority, which would also encourage training and Bermudian employment in the sector.

To be sure, the Tourism Board is now engaged on much of this work, and it is good to see that the Board is for the first time in years being given some responsibility having been sidelined previously.

But the leadership of the board is drawn almost entirely from outside of the industry. While the points of view and experiences of non-industry members is helpful and prevents insiders from only looking inward, the reality is that tourism development should and needs to be led by the people who have expertise in it and whose livelihoods depend on its success. That is what will focus minds.

So Mr Furbert has an opportunity to do the unthinkable do himself out of a job and in doing so, do something historic for Bermuda. His former colleague John Barritt showed the way when he stepped aside for Opposition Leader Craig Cannonier. Now Mr Furbert can show that the Progressive Labour Party can make sacrifices too.

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Published November 09, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 09, 2011 at 8:38 am)

Tourism authority

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