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Not in the Caribbean but of the Caribbean

In the carnival spirit: Kishantae Outerbridge is seen dressed in her Bermuda Heroes Weekend carnival costume at one of the water stops during the recent End To End. Bermuda’s Heroes Weekend is a celebration of Caribbean carnival

At the Bermuda Tourism Authority, we listen very closely to our stakeholders, including those in the Legislature who tend to have bigger megaphones than most. We believe strongly that active listening is a pillar of collaboration. We do it every day; it’s literally our policy. And even when there are differing opinions, we are respectful, reflective and non-confrontational.

However, when in their public statements our stakeholders misstate, misinform or mischaracterise information, we must counter it as often as we can.

In an opinion piece over the weekend Shadow Minister of Tourism Zane DeSilva mischaracterised the BTA’s position on marketing Bermuda’s Caribbean influences.

For example, he admonished Mr Bill Hanbury, BTA CEO, for “pouring cold water over [Bermuda’s] Caribbean link”. In The Royal Gazette, he suggested the BTA is heart-set against denying “that Bermuda has a very strong Caribbean cultural influence”.

Not true! In fact, much of MP DeSilva’s written objectives come from the same hymn book as Mr Hanbury, who is quoted as saying this to Bernews in January: “We wouldn’t dream of distancing Bermuda from its Caribbean influences. It’s what makes us special and it’s what visitors tell us they love about the island.”

“We are actually encouraging entrepreneurs to create tourism business opportunities that highlight island culture,” Mr Hanbury said. “This year alone, we plan a six-figure investment in tourism experiences that highlight Bermuda’s Caribbean roots. Bermuda’s Heroes Weekend is a celebration of Caribbean carnival. On De Rock is an open air culinary experience that will absolutely rock this Island. It is an extraordinary opportunity for us to show our heritage and our connection.”

Those words don’t measure up to “cold water”. They’re more like a warm embrace.

On the embrace of Bermuda Heroes Weekend, Mr DeSilva says the BTA needs to “stop talking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to marketing Bermuda”.

This, too, is an unfortunate, and hopefully not intentional, mischaracterisation.

Bermuda’s marketing distinction from the Caribbean is principally about geography. It’s science. Or, as Mr Hanbury said to Bernews (and ZBM), “it’s a statement of fact that we are in the Atlantic and we emphasise those facts when selling Bermuda. Geography is an extraordinary marketing advantage for us, so we are going to take full advantage”.

In a super-competitive landscape, Bermuda can sure use a few marketing advantages.

While MP DeSilva correctly identifies the tough pitch selling Bermuda’s beautiful beaches between November and March when our climate is 30 degrees cooler than the Caribbean, he missed an opportunity to let everyone know the BTA created a marketing strategy to match this reality. The BTA positions Bermuda as a destination for sports, culture, culinary, the arts and eco-tourism in the winter and spring.

To summarise: Bermuda is not geographically in the Caribbean AND Bermuda enjoys a wealth of beautiful Caribbean influences. Both can be true without talking out of both sides of the mouth. And both facts are marketing assets in our effort to grow Bermuda tourism. I’m doubly convinced of this upon reflecting on MP DeSilva’s words because after reading between the lines, I can see there’s broad agreement between his views and the BTA’s on this subject.

Even an ounce of consensus on this is a celebration for me — not just professionally, but personally as well because if the BTA was trying to deny Bermuda’s rich Caribbean cultural influences, it would make things tough at my house during the holidays. My 96-year-old great-grandma Myrtle has roots in Nevis. She talks of her visits there with clarity. She is unapologetically West Indian. If her great-grandson was part of any effort to deny her contribution to Bermuda, she would have me by the scruff of my neck faster than I can say J’Ouvert.

• Glenn Jones is the director of public and stakeholder relations at the Bermuda Tourism Authority