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Tourism opportunities still exist, says Todd

Cautiously optimisitc: Stephen Todd, the Bermuda Hotel Association CEO, remains upbeat

Recession aside, Bermuda’s entrepreneurs stand to gain by launching new tourism products, according to Bermuda Hotel Association (BHA) CEO Stephen Todd.

However, Mr Todd acknowledged that getting a loan to get a small business off the ground is not easy under the Island’s present banking climate.

“It’s the state of the economy,” Mr Todd said. “Clearly the banks are not keen to accept increased risk if they have genuine concerns over the ability of the borrower to repay.”

Asked how the Bermuda Government could improve matters, he said: “All they can really do is try to encourage the loaning institutions to relax the credit criteria and make loans available to qualifying borrowers. That’s a lot easier said than done.”

Mr Todd is a former president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce with a long background in banking, primarily retail banking. Since August 2014 he has headed the Bermuda Hotel Association, taking over from former CEO John Harvey.

With some observers pointing to 2015 as the turnaround year in Bermuda’s long recession, Mr Todd said the BHA was “cautiously optimistic”.

The Island at present is “challenging, especially for any enterprising entrepreneur looking to make a start with a solid business plan in any particular area of commerce — even though it’s commonly understood that the best time to start a business is in a recession”.

Banks will relax their policies only with a turnaround in the domestic and international economy, but Bermuda’s predicament as a jurisdiction is its “very high reliance” on foreign revenue.

“That’s going to be the driver for an overall improvement in our economy, as well as the ability of an entrepreneur or member of the public being able to borrow funds, and have the opportunity to either expand their current business venture or seek to establish new ones.”

Mr Todd said he had seen striking examples of creativity in the local small business front: “There are several who don’t know the meaning of the word ‘failure’.”

Even without financial support from day one, he said, “it may be a question of doing it in stages”.

“I believe there are still a number of hospitality and tourism based opportunities that still exist. Some great ones have come along recently.”

Mr Todd pointed to the example of Coconut Rockets, the flyboarding business launched in 2013.

“What we have to do is identify new and innovative ways to enjoy some of the natural beauty Bermuda provides. I also think many of our street vendors, whether it’s Harbour Nights or along the roadsides, provide new opportunities for visitors and residents to enjoy the Island. But we need to see more of it. The America’s Cup is clearly a great opportunity but it’s going to take all of us to realise collectively the excellent opportunity for Bermuda to show what we can do.”

Recent events such as the Carnival, Canada Day and Fourth of July celebrations had successfully made use of attractive locations around the Island, he noted.

Vacation home rental offers another potential avenue for small business, Mr Todd said — “as long as we have in place some structure that ensures everyone applies a minimum level of service and facilities that don’t detract from the experience”.

“It’s incumbent on me to recognise that each and every one of us has a role to play,” he said. “It’s not going to be the Government or one industrial sector. It’s important that we all play our part as ambassadors. We all have to work toward the common goal.”