Wayne Furbert tables report laying groundwork for National Tourism Plan
Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert yesterday released a report indented to lay the foundation for a National Tourism Plan.
The Minister said the document, created by the Tourism Board, would be instrumental in creating a five to ten year plan for the industry, which is now expected to be completed by April.
However Shadow Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell said Government should have already produced the Tourism Plan being that Government said it was considering a plan in 2006.
“Here we are in 2012 debating an interim report. We have not received a plan,” he said. “Something is wrong, Mr Speaker, when it takes six years. Tourism is in crisis. It was in crisis in 2006.
“Right now all we are doing, all Government has been doing since 1998 is making things up as we go along.”
The report, titled “Establishing the foundation for the National Tourism Plan,” details the decline in air arrivals and the increase in cruise ship arrivals since 1980.
Detailing several hot button issues, such as transportation, marketing, gaming, cruise ships, air lift to the Island and the concept of a tourism authority, it makes several recommendations.
Summarising, Mr Furbert said that the report recommends an ideal 60/40 mix between air arrivals and cruise ship arrivals, noting that travellers who arrive by air contribute significantly more to the Bermuda economy.
He said it also recommends the creation of new hotel beds is important in the growth of the industry, saying that Government is still working with developers and that he hoped he would be able to give an update soon.
Regarding transportation, the report recommends the introduction and support of private water taxis, and increasing transportation between Dockyard and St George’s, including a more robust ferry schedule and direct busses between the two areas.
Mr Furbert acknowledged that there had been some inconsistency in marketing the Island, saying: “When we hear ‘One Love,’ we know where that’s coming from.”
And noting the recommendation of the report to create a tourism authority, Mr Furbert said: “I would like to bring something [to the House] to give the Tourism Board more authority.”
Responding, Mr Crockwell said he supported the recommendations in the report, but expressed concern that Government would ignore some, such as the creation of a tourism authority, for political reasons.
He renewed the opposition’s call for the creation of an independent Tourism Authority, saying that Mr Furbert was “playing with words,” questioning if what the Minister was describing was the Tourism Authority he had fought for as opposition leader.
The Shadow Minister blamed the decline in air arrivals on the Government’s lack of a dedicated tourism authority, saying previous Tourism Minister Patrice Minors admitted having little experience in Tourism.
Mr Crockwell said he also lacked experience in the tourism industry, saying: “That is why we recommend establishing a tourism authority. You would not see a company hire a CEO who know’s nothing about the business.”
Mr Crockwell also expressed concern that the tourism plan might be completed before a referendum on gaming, potentially forcing Government to change the plan at additional cost should the public vote in favour of gaming.
St George’s MP Kim Swan echoed Mr Crockwell’s call for a tourism authority, telling the House instead of being the driving force for tourism, Government should facilitate the efforts of the industry’s key players.
Mr Furbert had bought into such an idea when he was a leading member of the United Bermuda Party, said Mr Swan, while former PLP Tourism Minister Renee Webb had also called for a tourism authority.
He poured scorn on former Premier Ewart Brown’s tenure as Tourism Minister, saying Dr Brown was a good salesman to the Bermuda public, who he convinced he was doing a good job, but not such a good salesman to the potential clients that mattered overseas.
Mr Swan recalled Dr Brown’s claim that the tourism industry was going through a platinum period and the fact he allowed people to meet Michael Douglas.
“No results. Where’s the beef? That’s the problem,” said the politician, who was elected as a United Bermuda Party MP.
He spoke briefly about gambling, saying his canvassing and surveys show many people are in favour of relaxing the laws. He said he voted against the cruise ship gaming bill because it was unfair against venues where people would still not be allowed to gamble.
Deputy Speaker Randy Horton said more promotional work should be put in the hands of the hotels.
Mr Horton, a member of Bermuda’s Tourism Board who works in the industry with the Fairmont Hamilton, said: “From me experience in tourism, why is the Government spending all this money on marketing and advertising and you are not getting the level of money from the private sector?”
He said Sandals does advertising for Jamaica and Paradise Island and Atlantis for the Bahamas.
“People go to those places because of them, and they put the money into bringing people into the country,” he said.
Mr Horton also said Bermudians could learn from his recent experience on vacation in Hawaii, where all residents he came into contact were aware of the importance of hospitality.
And the Southampton West MP said the development of his constituency’s Morgan’s Point could revitalise the industry.
Former Tourism Minister Patrice Minors, who passed that portfolio to Mr Furbert three months ago, said she accepts it’s been a long journey but that people must remain hopeful and recognise a struggling tourism industry is not a unique problem to Bermuda.
She suggested the creation of a central facility which could host concerts and other events that all hotels could benefit from, and said medical tourism could be developed further in future years.
Shadow Transport Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin expressed disappointment in the plan presented by Mr Furbert.
Mrs Gordon-Pamplin said she’d been to believe it would be exciting, but remarked: “There was no riveting revelation.”
She said transport is a key ingredient to the success of tourism, but noted problems with the ferry service and reports that only 60 percent of the Island’s buses are operational.
Minister for Environment, Planning and Social Infrastructure Marc Bean said that if Bermuda want’s to take tourism seriously, it has to abandon “conservative hypocrisy.”
“If we are going to revitalise our tourism industry, we have to revitalise our thinking,” he said. “For me it’s about asking visitors one question What do you want? The last thing that should come out of our mouths is no.”
He also said he was supportive of the idea of a completely privatised tourism authority, saying hoteliers, restaurateurs and others in the tourism industry should step up.
OBA Minister Dr Grant Gibbons described the debate as “déjà vu,” saying that very few new ideas were in the report, only the reinforcement that Bermuda needs to create a tourism authority.
“It’s clear all through this,” he said. “Every time we have had a new Minister we have gone on in a different direction. No wonder our customers are confused.
“Where is the plan? We don’t need a plan for the plan.”
He also said that the report’s statement that almost 80 percent of visitors were interested in renting a car on the Island showed that more attention needs to be paid to transportation.
“I’m not sure that’s the answer, but I’m sure we need to find a better way to get around,” he said. “There needs to be more effort put into the transport issue.”
Former Transportation Minister Terry Lister meanwhile said that Bermudians need to approach tourism with the old Bermuda mindset and get involved, repeating the expression “tourism is you.”
He said that while some members of the public were upset by changes to the ferry schedule last year, he had hoped someone would take the opportunity to introduce a water taxi programme, but nobody stepped up.
He also said that Bermuda remains an in demand cruise destination, and that Government made a conscious effort to limit the number of cruise ship passengers visiting the Island.
“There are people knocking on the door still, but we were saying this is the cap,” he said. “We were capping it because we want land visitors.”
Charlie Swan, elected under the UBP banner, said the creation of a tourism authority needs to be seen as a priority, not a long-term goal.
“This was a primary industry, and it can be one of them again,” he said.”I implore the Government to do this sooner rather than later.”