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Setting the table for tourism growth

Bermuda Tourism Authority CEO Bill Hanbury

At this moment in Bermuda’s history, the hospitality sector carries the country’s greatest hope for job creation and entrepreneurial opportunity. This was re-enforced in the Finance Minister’s budget speech where he repeatedly mentioned the tourism sector as the one place where real substantive economic opportunities exist for the country.

We agree with the Minister. Of all the components of the local economy, it’s the tourism sector which, when healthy, can create the most benefit. These opportunities can be career-fulfilling, upwardly mobile, family sustaining jobs, which are the difference between abundance and hardship for some Bermuda families.

And even among those who start their careers in the tourism sector and choose to leave for a different sector, they are better off for having been a part of our industry in the first place because they’re likely to earn more.

Setting The Table For Growth from Bermuda Tourism Authority on Vimeo.

Tourism employees learn life and employment skills that are invaluable throughout their careers and are easily transferrable to other business sectors. Think for a moment about the people you know who have built rewarding careers in hospitality — either climbing the ladder within the industry (perhaps even globally), or branching out into another sector of the economy and flourishing there.

I, along with dozens of Bermudians at the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA), are building a future for the industry that includes new jobs. Jobs in new hotels and existing ones, jobs in restaurants you know and eateries not yet built, transportation jobs and tourism retail jobs. And these jobs are just the beginning.

In 2015, what our tourism economy is searching for more than anything is a crop of entrepreneurial Bermudians who are self-motivated, committed and passionate about their country. People who look at our stalled tourism economy and see an opportunity, instead of a crisis. People who dream about owning a piece of the tourism economy because, to them, merely working in it isn’t enough. We know these Bermudians exist because they have come forward in our Tourism Experiences investment process. Jason Sukdeo’s vision is to bring a Caribbean Carnival experience to Bermuda and make it a marquee visitor event in the middle of June. We believe in the experience, but more importantly, we believe in this entrepreneurial spirit and that’s why the BTA will help fund Jason’s vision.

Bert Fraser told us his neighbourhood on the North Shore in Pembroke is perfect for a visitor attraction of Bermuda-inspired food, local performers and seaside views. He said he loves his neighbourhood and visitors will, too. We agree. Now Bert has seed money from the BTA to grow an authentic Bermuda experience on the Island’s other beautiful shoreline.

Cessna pilots, culinary creators and yoga instructors, artists, sailors and kite enthusiasts — in all about $1 million dollars awarded by the BTA for solid homegrown ideas this year. We figured: who better for the Tourism Authority to invest in than the people of Bermuda? It’s our roadmap to rich, authentic, unique experiences that will set this beautiful country apart from its competitors. The BTA is tapping into the real Bermuda. The entrepreneurial reach into the Bermuda tourism economy is longer than you may think.

I suspect you know someone who owns a home with a vacant apartment. Maybe it was abandoned suddenly because the tenant lost his job or an ex-pat moved on to a different country.

As certain as the BTA will grow visitor demand, Bermuda vacationers will want more lodging options when they travel. Vacation rentals are rising sharply in popularity. Your neighbour with a vacant apartment may really have an immediate business opportunity in the tourism economy. Supporting and strengthening the vacation rental market is on the BTA “to-do list” for 2015 and every step of the way we’re thinking about how meeting our objective can also help Bermudian families.

Everyday we’re setting the table to achieve success for tourism. It’s a slow process — trust me, I’m also frustrated by the pace. But I assure you, we’re getting there. I underestimated the challenges when I arrived on the Island last year.

There was no quick solution to our tourism problems. For example, poor strategy and marketing execution, along with supplier contracts that did not serve us well, made 2014 destined for less than stellar results. This year will be better because our team is driving the strategy.

In the run-up to the last election, all parties agreed the concept of an independent tourism effort, outside of Government, was the smart thing to do. A new tourism authority would act in the best interests of all of Bermuda and eliminate the dysfunction that knocked us off track. With a close eye on what the marketplace demands, not what Bermuda hopes the marketplace will accept, indicators are showing signs of real progress in 2015.

The positive momentum is a result of investing in competent professionals — mostly Bermudians — who represent the solution to a very complex challenge. To meet what’s before us we need an assembly of world-class employees who are held to the highest performance and ethical standards. I make no apology for the quality of our team. They are serving Bermuda well.

This team stands ready to work with all parties on what should be a concerted, united national effort to create opportunities in the tourism economy. This should be analogous to the United States’ determination to place a man on the moon in the 1960s. Bermuda needs its own “moon shot” on tourism.

Our lofty goals include greater capital investment in our tourism product. We can create a substantial volume of new pathways to success for Bermudians if we can foster greater private sector investment in our tourism infrastructure. This is the focus of the BTA’s investment division. The construction jobs to be generated by tourism development should be a valuable source of Bermudian employment for many years to come. To always have a new tourism development project in the pipeline, or on the drawing board, will sustain construction jobs for the long haul.

Right now what we need is a collaborative effort to reach our full potential. Everyone — public and private sector, management, unions and community groups — wants to see growth: more opportunity, more activity, more optimism.

A tourism job supports growth best because, according to the latest Tourism Satellite Account Report, for every ten tourism jobs created, another 4.5 jobs are created in the broader economy. Create 1,000 jobs and the knock-on effect is an extra 450 jobs across the entire Island’s economy.

We’re making the case that an investment in tourism is an investment in job opportunities and we have a plan that can:

• increase revenue into Government coffers as air departure, cruise and hotel occupancy taxes grow;

• amplify visitor spending by tens of millions of dollars;

• and provide a return on investment for Bermuda up to ten to 1... yes, an outlay in tourism marketing can generate $10 for every dollar invested.

Where else in our economy is the near-term outlook filled with this kind of potential? We’re all exhausted by the talk of spending less and cutting more, tired of redundancies instead of hiring, and especially sick of contraction instead of growth. We believe we have the antidote to contraction.

Bill Hanbury is CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority