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No fallout for Dallas over Senate letter

Kevin Dallas, the chief executive of the Bermuda Tourism Authority (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Kevin Dallas will not face a backlash from his superiors in the Bermuda Tourism Authority after he asked senators to vote against a Bill designed to repeal marriage equality, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

Mr Dallas, the BTA chief executive, wrote to members of the Upper House in advance of their Wednesday vote on the Domestic Partnership Act 2017.

He told them the Bill, which passed by a vote of 8-3 and will become law if assented to by the Governor, could cause “serious reputational damage” to Bermuda as a tourism destination.

But the BTA board of directors later emphasised that it was a “non-political entity”.

Tourism minister Jamahl Simmons told The Royal Gazette last night that he expressed his “disappointment” to BTA chairman Paul Telford over the letter and admitted suggesting that the board should clarify its position if it were different from Mr Dallas’s, but stopped short of saying outright that he should be disciplined.

“I suggested to the chairman that if the position of the board did not reflect the position presented by Mr Dallas in his unauthorised statement, that they consider clarifying that,” the minister said.

Mr Telford earlier published a joint statement with Mr Dallas on the BTA’s website. “Our strategy will continue to focus on showcasing Bermuda’s genuine hospitality and diverse, inclusive culture — traits that have always been valued and true,” the chairman said. “The board of directors has every confidence that the talented Bermuda Tourism Authority team is up to the challenge of delivering on that strategy.”

Mr Dallas added: “Our role at the Bermuda Tourism Authority is to support the island’s economy by promoting tourism and welcoming all guests to our beautiful destination. The focus for the Bermuda Tourism Authority is to work on behalf of Bermuda’s reputation, her visitors and her tourism industry workers.”

Mr Dallas wrote to members of the Senate on Tuesday: “We should send a message that Bermuda continually and permanently lives up to its well-earned reputation as a warm, friendly and welcoming destination. A no vote on the Domestic Partnership Bill will make that message crystal clear to the world.”

A source with knowledge of the board’s discussions over Mr Dallas’s letter said: “It’s all done and dusted. There are no thoughts of him leaving. The board is absolutely 100 per cent behind him. What he said was right.”

The source added the island’s 2016 tourism statistics showed it had tapped into a younger market of visitors from New York and the BTA planned to build on that in other US gateway cities.

The source said: “That was a huge success. The new people who came, 70 per cent of them were under 45. Their views on this are more likely to be in tune with the younger generation here than the older generation.”

The source added the letter gave senators important information on the potential impact of the Bill and they voted with that knowledge.

The source said: “In hindsight, the one thing where he probably overstepped the mark was where he said ‘you should vote against it’.

“That technically is getting into the politics piece. He should have just stopped and left out that one sentence and the message would have been just as strong.”

The statement issued by the board of directors on Wednesday said it had “full trust in Bermuda’s elected and appointed officials to effectively carry out the democratic process on behalf of Bermuda’s citizens”.

A second source with knowledge of the board’s discussions questioned whether any “right-thinking individual” would believe that Mr Dallas should be disciplined for the letter.

“If a ferry captain can crash a ferry into a dock and keep his job, are we really going to fire Mr Dallas?” said the source in reference to a 2008 incident involving a Department of Marine and Ports worker.

The source asked: “Isn’t that a bit severe?”

The source said it was no secret that Mr Dallas was a supporter of gay rights and that he had the right to speak freely as an individual.

The source added: “We need to make sure that people are clear when they are speaking for the company they work for or when they speak for themselves as individuals.

“There are certainly things that can negatively affect tourism. It will be the BTA’s responsibility to point out those things.”

Mr Simmons added: “I was informed by BTA board chair Paul Telford that the statement by Mr Dallas was issued without his approval.

“While ultimately Mr Dallas’s actions are a matter for the board and chair, I did communicate my disappointment with this unauthorised statement and will support the board in whatever action they wish to take to ensure the established processes and procedures surrounding public statements are respected.”

Mr Simmons declined to give a view on whether he thought Mr Dallas had done a good job in selling the island’s tourist industry.

He said: “Mr Dallas’s performance is not the issue here. The issue is the need to ensure that established processes and procedures surrounding public statements are respected by every employee of the BTA.”

There have been seven gay weddings in Bermuda and on island-registered cruise ships since a Supreme Court ruling in May enabled them to take place.

No more will be allowed under the Domestic Partnership Act.

But a last-minute addition to the Bill last Friday in the House of Assembly means all same-sex marriages conducted here or abroad up to the Bill becoming law will still be recognised.