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When time is the only magic bullet

Uncommon and unspoilt: the work of the Bermuda Tourism Authority in selling our beautiful island is now yielding results

It has been said Bermuda has a tendency to hurry slowly, that it’s the land where time has almost, but not quite, stood still.

There’s more than a little truth to this, of course. Our leisurely pace is part of our charm. Indeed, one of the island’s more memorable tourism marketing taglines in recent years — “Unspoiled. Unhurried. Uncommon.” — spotlighted our relaxed ambience as being among our most appealing features.

But gearing an entire community to run on what’s jokingly referred to as “Bermuda Time”, sometimes in the face of even the most pressing challenges and demands, is not always desirable.

Time is likely the only thing Bermudian officialdom still has in abundance in these cash-strapped, post-recessionary times. Even so, the powers that be occasionally give the impression they delight in hoarding it.

So Bermuda residents can be forgiven if they sometimes conclude that their government is operating in slow motion. We all have stories to tell about various exasperatingly plodding official responses to even the most glaring and well-defined problems.

We’ve all had personal experience with government departments and services lacking in any sense of urgency or initiative. And we have all had dealings with individual politicians, bureaucrats and government functionaries for whom time is as loosely understood and abstract a concept as, say, celestial mechanics.

Having said all that, though, we are living in an increasingly fast-paced age where even instant gratification takes too long for far too many people.

We’ve all but eliminated waiting from so many areas of our lives, now that everything from balancing our bank account to booking a vacation is just a mouse click away, that patience is in real danger of becoming the forgotten virtue.

This craving to have our needs met instantly has led to irrational frustration with areas where time is, in fact, the only magic bullet.

It was never reasonable, for instance, to expect the Bermuda Tourism Authority — a body created only three years ago — to rebrand, reposition and begin to regrow the island’s hospitality product overnight.

Yet in some quarters, such miraculous results were not only expected but indeed demanded.

Since its very earliest days, the BTA has been routinely derided and mocked for not being able to arrest and reverse a decades-long decline in the island’s hospitality industry simply by wishing it away. But in an island where the public debate is too often driven by magical thinking rather than anything approximating rational analysis, the more absurd expectations placed upon the BTA by some critics were perhaps unavoidable.

Now with visitor arrival figures inching upwards, capital investment in the tourism infrastructure increasing and a slate of new cruise ship visits to St George unveiled just this week, it is clear the BTA is fulfilling its mission statement to revitalise an industry that was near moribund just a few years ago.

The independent body’s multiple, interrelated objectives — stimulating economic growth, encouraging a welcoming environment for tourism investment and, perhaps most crucially, creating employment opportunities for Bermudians — are all being met and its performance is impressive by any yardstick. “The BTA deserves a lot of credit,” former tourism minister Shawn Crockwell said recently. “With all of the criticism and ridicule that the BTA has had to endure over the last couple of years, people need to give them their due.

“I have said for some time, a new marketing strategy, a new organisational structure, a new managerial approach will take time to see results.

“It is going to take a couple of years and now we are seeing it and they deserve to be applauded, particularly because they stuck to it despite the naysayers and criticism.”

Mr Crockwell, who oversaw the BTA’s creation when he held the tourism portfolio and stewarded the fledgeling organisation during most of the first two years of its existence, knows whereof he speaks.

Freed of the red tape and bureaucratic encumbrances that stifled innovation and creativity at the old Ministry of Tourism, the BTA was clearly an idea whose time had not only come, but was in fact long overdue.

In terms of marketing Bermuda as a vacation destination, it is fair to say the island remains very much uncommon and unspoilt. But the mechanics of managing and selling our tourism industry are now, thankfully, somewhat less unhurried than was once the case.