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Hope for struggling St George as strategic plan considered

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George Dowling III, the Mayor of St George (File photograph)
Charles H Jeffers II, the chief executive of the Bermuda Tourism Authority (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Dennie O'Connor (File photograph)
Marico Thomas (File photograph)

A blueprint to boost the economy in ailing St George will be considered, the Government revealed in the Throne Speech yesterday.

Rena Lalgie, the Governor, who delivered the speech on behalf of the Government, said the strategic plan would be “informed by consultation with all relevant stakeholders and will represent the best means by which to raise the fortunes of the Olde Towne in the wake of the renewal opportunity presented by the new St Regis Hotel, renovated St George’s Club and the construction of the new marina.”

Jennifer Ysseldyke, the programming and operations manager for the Tobacco Bay concession and PR and marketing manager for the White Horse Pub & Restaurant in the town, said: “For far too long St George’s has been given the crumbs of what is left over or simply ignored.

“I’m grateful that the legislature will consider a strategic plan for the town, but I do have my reservations, as promises have been made in the past and a plan is only as good as its implementation and execution.

“Even before Covid, businesses in the east were suffering. We definitely need help. We can no longer be overlooked in the wake of the renewed opportunities that have taken root in the east."

Marico Thomas, a businessman with several ventures lined up in St George’s, said he welcomed any moves to improve St George.

Mr Thomas said: “The misfortunes of St George’s are not new and so it is with enthusiasm that this news is received.

“While the townspeople and business operators do what they can, the economics related to St George’s require vision, policies and, quite frankly, financial support greater than what is able to be provided by the town itself.

“I look forward to the planning process and results related.”

The development of a strategic plan for the Old Town was sparked by the Corporation of St George last September.

The corporation’s plan was designed to focus on the architectural, social, economic and natural environments of St George.

No mention was made in yesterday’s speech on how the government’s plan would be different.

George Dowling III, the Mayor of St George, said because of the Covid-19 pandemic and “other circumstances” the town’s plan had stalled.

He added: “We the Corporation of St George, as well as the ministry which we fall under, recognised this and have taken measures to engage the appropriate stakeholders and move the dial to completion for this project.

“Our other projects such as the marina are progressing and we have had a long-term lease signed for quite some time now.”

Dennie O’Connor, the owner of the White Horse and who has three decades of experience in the tourism and hospitality sector, said: “We are on the cusp of a tourism resurgence and it's important that we get this right.

“I have seen time and time again broken promises and missed opportunities that have befallen St George’s.

“While I'm very hopeful and encouraged by the Throne Speech and it's inclusion of St George's, I do know that actions speak louder than words."

The Throne Speech said more would be expected of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

Ms Lalgie said: “While the execution of any tourism campaign and marketing strategy is the purview of the BTA, leadership in tourism policy must come from the Government of Bermuda, who commit tens of millions of taxpayer funds to the organisation, a commitment which demands a far greater return than has been realised in the years since the creation of the authority.”

But Charles Jeffers, the chief executive of the BTA, insisted: “The first few years of the BTA was created there were certainly a huge returns – millions of dollars of economic impact were realised.

“In the most recent years, with the pandemic impacting not only tourism in Bermuda but tourism around the world, there hasn’t been much of a return.

“But we are confident that the work that we are doing in embarking on a brand study, hiring an agency to represent us in the UK and throughout Europe, coupled with a new leadership team, means that we are poised to see greater returns than we have seen these last couple of years.”

Mr Jeffers added: “We are not in competition with the government – they do provide policy and funding so we have to take that policy and funding and continue to market the destination to ensure we get a greater return on investment.”

Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, predicted yesterday that “the writing is on the wall” for the BTA.

Mr Simons said: “It seems as though the days of the BTA are numbered. The government is looking at taking back control.

“Who can forget the former tourism minister, the Honourable Zane DeSilva, when he clearly stated on the floor of the House of Assembly ‘we are going to rip out the engine, the engine of the BTA’?”

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Published November 08, 2021 at 7:53 am (Updated November 08, 2021 at 7:43 am)

Hope for struggling St George as strategic plan considered

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