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PLP’s politics more important than tourism

Set for makeover: Clarendon House on Bermudiana Road (Photograph by Sideya Dill)

Dear Sir,

I can’t think of any Bermudian who would disagree with the Government’s big push to rebuild the tourism industry.

New hotels are in development, old ones are getting a makeover, cruise ships are returning to St George, tourist arrivals are up and Bermuda Tourism Authority marketing is hitting its mark.

Good things are happening.

But after last Friday’s House of Assembly debate on concessions to strengthen hotel operations, I am disturbed that the Opposition’s politics are more important to it than the rebuild.

Two Bills were up for debate.

The Hotel Concessions Amendment Act extended tax relief to hotels by including staff accommodations, administrative offices and storage within the definition of hotel.

The second Bill extended concessions to the Hamilton Princess Hotel, which is planning to convert an unused office building on Bermudiana Road into staff housing and administrative offices.

The Progressive Labour Party was quick to attack. It wanted the Government to withdraw the Bill. The concessions had nothing to do with attracting more visitors to Bermuda; rather they were tax relief for the wealthy, doing nothing for the economic wellbeing of Bermudians.

My colleagues expressed surprise at the PLP position and pushed back:

• The Princess concession would enable the transfer of staff now housed at The Fairmont Southampton to the new facility, freeing up that hotel’s rooms for more visitors

• Hotel staff who lived off-property tended to occupy lower-cost rentals, making it more difficult for Bermudians to rent

• The purchase and retrofit of the Bermudiana Road building would amount to a $15 million to $20 million injection into the economy, generating work for businesses and Bermudians

• The project would cap a $100 million investment into the Hamilton Princess Hotel and Beach Club, a restoration that has put a shine on Bermuda tourism and led to many young and enthusiastic Bermudians joining the Princess team

• The legislation was designed to strengthen hotel economics and to get tourism back on its feet in a sustainable way. As finance minister Bob Richards said: If hotels don’t work, the sector won’t work.

The legislation may be about hotels, but the real purpose is to generate activity that supports the working lives of Bermudians.

“There are people out there without work, able-bodied people on financial assistance, and their families need help,” Attorney-General Trevor Moniz said. “We’re reaching out to help those people and we’d like the Opposition to join us in doing that.”

Michael Dunkley, the Premier, added that the legislation would help to put the hotel industry on solid ground, “which creates so many opportunities for Bermudians, and we should not overlook that”.

Unfortunately, the Opposition did not support the first Bill, although it did support the second one — an inconsistency that left me scratching my head.

Fortunately, the Government has got a clear sense of what needs to be done. The tourism rebuild will continue and opportunities for Bermudians will continue to grow and to spread.

With Friday’s two votes, that’s exactly what my colleagues set in motion.