New Tourism Minister: ‘I have a history of making things happen’
New Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert has vowed to put “all ideas” on the table as he works to revive the struggling hospitality industry.
The former leader of the United Bermuda Party said he “didn’t think twice” about accepting Premier Paula Cox’s offer to serve in Cabinet.
Mr Furbert, who crossed the floor just 18 months ago, knows it’s not going to be an easy job as the industry continues to suffer from hotel closures and a decline in tourist numbers.
But the new Minister says he is willing to put in the hard work as he’s “eager to get things moving”.
Mr Furbert takes over from Patrice Minors at the helm of the Ministry of Business Development and Tourism. Ms Minors was moved to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry in yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle.
Mr Furbert said: “I’m excited and eager to get things moving and to push ahead. I’m ready for this.”
Mr Furbert was sworn in as a new Minister at Government House yesterday morning, before attending a Cabinet meeting then spending the rest of the afternoon at his new Ministry “to try to get a feel of everything”.
He said he “got stuck right in” and took a handful of reports home to read for his first night’s homework.
Mr Furbert said: “There’s not going to be any immediate action. It’s very early days and I am still trying to grasp some of the things that are going on with hotel development and strategic plans.
“But I will be looking at all ideas, old and new.”
Mr Furbert wouldn’t go into specifics, saying: “I’m not going to touch on stuff right now, but you’ll be hearing from me soon.”
He did however say Ms Minors had laid the foundations for “some of the things” he would be looking at in the near future.
Mr Furbert also said he would consider gambling as a way to generate revenue in the winter months. He voted against gaming in the House of Assembly in May and quickly added: “I’m not saying I now support gaming.”
Mr Furbert was elected as an MP for Hamilton West in 1993, 2003 and 2007 and was UBP leader in 2006/7. He previously served in Cabinet from 1993 to 1998 as Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs, Minister of Transport and Minister of Housing, Health and Social Services.
It will now be Mr Furbert’s job to oversee the long-awaited National Tourism Plan, which will be blueprint for the future of the industry.
He will also consider whether an independent Tourism Authority is needed and will decide whether to continue to work with the Ministry of Health to try to expand medical tourism as a way to fill Bermuda’s empty hotel beds.
However, one of his first jobs is expected to be hosting a press conference to announce the third quarter visitor arrival numbers. Yesterday’s scheduled press conference with Ms Minors was postponed only about two hours before it was due to start.
This year’s second quarter statistics revealed that tourist numbers had dropped 3.5 percent with fewer people visiting on cruise ships and yachts.
Mr Furbert said it was “a wonderful feeling” when Ms Cox phoned him up on Tuesday to ask him to be Tourism Minister.
He said: “The phone conversation seemed a lot longer than it probably was, I think I was just trying to take in what she was asking me, but I didn’t need to think about it.
“I told her ‘yes, I’ll do it’. When duty calls, I’m there.”
Ms Minors came under fire for heading up the Ministry with more of a business rather than tourism background.
But Mr Furbert himself believes he was chosen based on his varied work experience, as well as his “ideas and concepts”.
He has a background in accounting and law and also running his own businesses, including tourist apartments.
Mr Furbert said: “As far as my background goes, I have a history of making things happen.”