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MPs clash over tourism

Shadow Tourism Minister

Shawn Crockwell claimed last night that his counterpart in Government put a “gloss” and a “spin” this week on the 2011 visitor arrival figures.

Tourism Minister

Wayne Furbert reported on Monday that Bermuda recorded the second highest number of tourists in history last year and a 12 percent increase on 2010.

He announced that 655,236 tourists came to the Island in 2011, second only to 2007 when 663,767 people arrived.

The figure included 236,038 air passengers and a record 415,711 cruise passengers.

Mr Crockwell told the House of Assembly that Mr Furbert gave the impression that the statistics indicated a revival in the tourism industry, when that wasn’t the case.

“It’s not just the total arrivals of tourists that’s important,” said the Opposition MP. “What is important is what type of arrivals are coming to Bermuda.”

He said both sides of the House acknowledged that air travellers were far more important to the Island’s economy than cruise ship passengers, with the recently established Tourism Board suggesting the right balance would be arrivals made up of 60 percent of the former and 40 percent of the latter.

“We are not there,” said Mr Crockwell, adding that cruise passengers last year accounted for almost 63 percent of arrivals and air passengers accounted for almost 36 percent.

“That’s not what Mr Furbert said when he touted out those figures. He didn’t say we don’t have the right balance. He didn’t say we are bringing in too many cruise visitors and not enough air visitors.

“He put on the gloss, he put on the spin, that because the numbers were up that somehow the industry was in recovery.”

The number of air passengers rose by two percent in 2011 but Mr Crockwell pointed out 2010 was the worst year for air arrivals in Bermuda’s history.

“Two percent on the worst ever is nothing to boast about,” said the One Bermuda Alliance MP. “Let’s be real about the state of our tourism industry.”

Deputy Premier

Derrick Burgess responded to the criticism, noting that Mr Furbert was off the Island promoting Bermuda.

Mr Burgess said the 60/40 formula was stated in the past as an ideal for Bermuda and was still something to strive for. But he added: “We have got to get revenue into this Government.”

He said the worldwide recession and unemployment in the US, Canada and the UK were bound to have an effect on the number of visitors to Bermuda.

The Transport Minister said: “Let’s not come down on tourism. We are doing our best to get tourism in this country.”

He said the current Minister and previous Minister had worked very hard to make improvements, adding: “Hey, what more can we do? Anybody could criticise. They can’t do any better. If they could, they would be where we are.”

National Security Minister

Wayne Perinchief said the Island needed to stop “hearkening back to days gone by” when there were 10,000 hotel beds and the staff to support the industry.

Instead, he suggested, the focus should be on how to “extract every dollar” from cruise ship passengers, especially by impressing them so much they come back for a longer stay.

“We need to change our attitude and now cater properly to cruise ships,” he said. “We need to embrace them, not treat them like second-class tourists.”

Kim Swan, who was elected as a United Bermuda Party MP, said 200,000 air visitors each spending $1,200 in Bermuda translated into an injection of $240 million for the economy.

He said spending by twice as many cruise ship passengers would still amount to only one sixth of that figure.

He said private business needed to be empowered and that a tourism authority was still badly needed.

The St George’s West MP, who is a golf pro, lamentedthe “deplorable state” of St George’s golf course.

“It’s a clover field right now,” he said. “The solution is this: take St George’s Golf Club and find a way to renovate it in the next three months. Get it playable. Use it as a loss leader.”

He said Bermuda needed to offer its visitors something that would make them want to come back.

Later Environment Minister

Marc Bean took issue with Mr Crockwell’s “gloss” and “spin” accusation and said: “Our Tourism Minister presented the facts on arrivals the way they are. But yet somehow, some way the Opposition being consistent they find that the cup is half empty instead of being half full.

“At some point we have to rise a little higher than the petty political discourse as it relates to the tourism industry. We spent a whole debate two weeks ago weeping and moaning about all the negatives. I got up and presented what I felt we needed to do to move away from the stiff neck, hypocritical conservatism that besets this country, that we all know hinders any future development in any marketplace.

“People are looking for action. There’s a saying that misery loves company. Are you all that miserable, being perpetual opposition politicians. As a person thinketh they becometh.”

Speaker of the House

Stanley Lowe told Mr Bean to stick with statistics. But Mr Bean continued: “All I hear from the Opposition is gloom and doom and it’s consistent. No matter what the issue is, Mr Speaker, the Opposition are professional problem seekers and not once do they ever offer any constructive solutions.”

Shadow Education Minister

Grant Gibbons rose to his feet to call for a point of order and said: “I think the debate has deteriorated, the honourable member is misleading the house. We’ve offered any number of solutions on this side and that’s a little unfair even at this late hour.” The Speaker upheld the point of order.

But Mr Bean continued and asked: “Do any of us think by standing up in this House and speaking doom and gloom, spinning it and putting a negative spin on the facts achieves anything?”

That prompted another point of order, this time by Mr Crockwell who said: “We have only spoken the facts, how is that gloom and doom when it’s the facts, and he’s misleading the House. The Minister said the overall numbers were the second highest in our history and that tourism is going forward in a positive direction, that’s what we refute.

“We are setting the record straight that it’s not going in the right direction, that this Government thinks otherwise, then so be it.”

That brought Health Minister

Zane DeSilva to his feet with a point of order. “The numbers are not going the right way, it might just be one percent but would you prefer them to go the other way?”

Mr Bean maintained Mr Crockwell was giving his own opinion and not facts.

“Everything he speaks of is framed in dark clouds, its framed with the intention to destroy the spirit of the people. As a boatsman, I can’t tolerate people who are on the boat who are so desirous to become the captain of the boat that they would sink the boat just to get to the cockpit. And that’s my whole point.”

MPs debated whether the record number of cruise visitors who came to Bermuda last year were too many compared to air visitors. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published February 18, 2012 at 7:00 am (Updated February 17, 2012 at 11:56 pm)

MPs clash over tourism

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