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Gibbons grilled over AC amendments

Minister Grant Gibbons. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Government was challenged in the House of Assembly yesterday over amendments allowing international charter boats to operate in Bermuda before, during and after the America’s Cup.

While Grant Gibbons, the Minister of Economic Development, said that the demand for charter boats will exceed supply for the international event, the Progressive Labour Party questioned the decision to allow the boats to operate one month before and after the event.

Dennis Lister, Shadow Minister of Public Works, said: “That’s the bulk of our summer season. During the America’s Cup event, I wouldn’t have a problem, but giving them a month before and after is unacceptable.

“This is an opportunity to get a bit of extra business, but here we are taking the rug right out from under them.”

Dr Gibbons responded that in his discussions with the industry most operators were happy to have the additional business, but expressed concerns about the idea of foreign charter boats working in the island in the future, adding that a working group was looking into the concept.

The debate came as the House discussed the America’s Cup Amendment (No 2) Act 2017, which was intended to address several elements of the event, scheduled to begin in May.

Dr Gibbons explained that the legislation would address issues that had arisen related to customs duty relief and liquor licensing to allow alcohol sales in areas of Dockyard during the event.

However, aspects related to foreign charter boats drew concern from some members of the opposition. PLP MP Zane DeSilva questioned if Dr Gibbons had spoken with tour boat operators, saying that some local operators were still under-booked during the event.

“They are not fully booked,” he said. “It’s a tragedy, we have all these people coming to Bermuda and some say they have very few bookings.”

Shadow tourism minister Jamahl Simmons said that the Progressive Labour Party supports the island’s hosting of the America’s Cup event, calling it an opportunity for Bermuda to showcase itself on an international stage.

But he said the Government must ensure that they are doing what they can to make sure that Bermudians benefit first.

PLP’s Rolfe Commissiong also said that serious efforts must be made to make sure the event is as inclusive as it can be, and that if the island is given another opportunity to host the event, that black Bermudians are able to participate at every level of the event.

Meanwhile, Opposition leader David Burt questioned how much Government remains on the hook for its financial guarantee for the event. “We know where we are with the AC. It’s not going to be all things for all people,” he said. “But we want to make sure we are not paying through the nose.”

Dr Gibbons said that more information about the guarantee will be released soon as part of the budget debate, and that organisers have been working to ensure that the wider community benefit from the event.

“Clearly it’s going to have a large economic impact. I don’t think we have seen a situation where hotels have seen advanced bookings of this level so far in advance,” he said.

“Because we are going to have teams and spectators here in advance of the five weeks of the event and here after the five weeks, we are trying to get as much of the economic benefit as we can.”

He said the local tour operators would not be able to meet the demand during the period before or after the event, which is why the decision was made to allow the foreign operators to remain for a month on either side of the event.

“We are talking about larger boats here,” he added. “We have about half a dozen boats in that category.”