THURSDAY, FEB. 9: Good evening Rotarians,

Thank you for inviting me here to share information on one of the key pillars of our economy – TOURISM.

If there is one message that I would like for you to take home this evening, it would be, “IT’S TIME TO DREAM AGAIN”

Too many of us have given up on our Dream. We have put ourselves in a box, refusing to think outside because of what we see. We have lost our focus and our sight has become blurred.

We have to start to see things as they could be, not what they are. The Great Dr. Martin Luther King said “I have a Dream that one day”. It was not about his current surroundings or about the conditions that he experienced.

I am challenging each one of you to start to Dream again.

 “A Leader must have the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He must inspire the power and energy within to get it done”.

What are we doing as Leaders? What vision are we portraying to those who are looking up to us? Are we always saying woe is me? Are we sending out negativity that is filtering down to those who are looking for real leaders?

Or are you inspiring the power and energy within you to get it done?

Can you imagine what President George Washington was thinking when he crossed the Delaware River on that cold and snowy night? It was a very gutsy move, but it turned out to be the single event that shifted the momentum of the Revolutionary War.

When the great challenge came Sir Winston Churchill he said “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Do we have any George Washingtons or Winston Churchills left, who would say, despite the odds, I am ready to fight?

If you have lost the vision than I am asking you, I am begging you, join me in my Vision.

I see hope, I see a people coming together, I see an increase in tourism, I see an increase in International Business, I see a bright future for Bermuda.

Catch the vision with me. “IT’S TIME TO DREAM AGAIN”.

 

Rotary friends,

There is no doubt that the country as a whole understands, and is very aware of the importance of tourism, not only to protect the livelihoods of the employees working directly in the industry but the thousands of people indirectly affected by our visitors on a daily basis.

The Ministry of Business Development and Tourism refuses to be a bystander. The recovery campaign to revive the industry has started. We will put tourism back on track and at the same time substantially increase foreign exchange through increased visitor numbers. We can no longer live with hotels trimming staff, reducing inventory and hospitality employees working just 6 months a year. We need to get back to business, renew our commitment, so that those who want to work are able to work year round in a career that they enjoy.

Tourism is a key economic driver globally, and one of the main sources of income for many developing countries. What we did in the 70s, 80s, and 90s and even at the turn of the century is different from what we need to do today to grow the tourism business. Also, the economic drivers during those times were different from what we are facing today.   

In 1980 there were 491,640 air visitors and 117,916 cruise visitors to Bermuda. This compares to 232,262 air visitors and 347,931 cruise visitors in 2010. There were also 107 hotels with 9299 beds, compared to today where there are 50 hotels with a bed count of 5685. The hotel industry employed 5,261 people in 1980 compared to 2,431 today. International business employed 1,834 people in 1980, but today employs 4,279 and Bermuda’s population was 54,050 in 1980, compared to 64,237 in 2010; an increase of over 10,000.

 

Rotary friends,

Back in the day, Bermudians were most hospitable. Residents stopped to assist visitors with directions without hesitation; the entire community looked out for the red licence plate of a rental cycle and proceeded with caution when passing them on the road. Our children gave up their seats on the bus to a more senior person without being asked. Bermudians were genuinely friendly and welcoming to visitors.

Today, we have to go into primary schools to teach our youth how to be hospitable. Even though many of us go out of our way to accommodate our visitors, we have to face the fact that there is a segment of our community that is less tolerant of our guests and treat them as if they are nuisances to the island. We have to change this mindset in order to survive and sustain tourism.

For the most part, since 1980 Bermuda has seen a steady decline in the tourism industry. Bermuda was fortunate to benefit from the growth of the international Business sector to hold the economy during poor tourism periods. We became over reliant on International Business in the 1980’s and became complacent and failed to give the tourism sector the attention that was required for growth.

The seed that was planted way back in the 80s and the watering of the same, with such statements as:

• Telling our young people to go into international Business instead of Tourism.

• Leaders implying that we should move away from tourism into International Business, has caused us to lose sight of the vision.

There are other factors that have caused a declined in tourism, global recession, a few major hurricanes that either hit the island or came close enough to force cancellations, and 9/11 which was the most impactful. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a massive drop in air travel on a global scale. Air travel changed immensely with the implementation of security measures and procedures that have not only increased the cost of travel but extended the lag time for reaching final destinations. Bermuda was hard hit by the effects of 9/11; passports have now become a requirement. According to the most recent statistics issued by the State Department in January of 2011, most Americans do not have passports. Given the country’s population of 307,006,550, only 37% of the population had one. In other words we are limited by the number of those we can attract now more than before.

Immediately after 9/11 our key feeder markets took on a whole new approach to vacationing. There was a keen sense of family and ‘to-gethering’. The immediate trend saw American families and their extended family members vacationing together at ‘drive-to’ destinations.

The sharp decrease in air arrivals has had a severe impact on the island hotel operators who struggled to keep their doors open which meant that Bermudians were facing a high level of unemployment. With the decrease in revenues, hotels were not reinvesting in their infrastructure which resulted in Bermuda’s product becoming outdated. The Government recognized the need to stimulate upgrades and redevelopment and introduced the Hotel’s Refurbishment Act and later the Hotels Concession Act which provides tax reliefs to licensed hotel accommodations.

Over the years we have also seen emerging tourist markets like Prague and Dubai. Who ever thought that Americans would be flocking to Dubai? More cost effective travel options have opened the door to travel destinations that would never have been considered in the 80s, 90s or even a decade ago. We have to face the fact that the impact of technology and the changing demographics and trends in tourism are here to stay. Additionally, where vacations were booked 6 months to a year out decades ago, booking are now made within weeks to days of arrival. 

Back in the day, the industry pushed their properties through agents offering various promotions. When that failed they lowered their prices. Today, the hotel industry focuses on protecting, rejuvenating and creating a product that our savvy travelers would find unique and worth paying for.  

 

Rotary friends,

The media spares no one! Consider the impact of a potential visitor surfing the web and coming across the headline ‘gun shots fired’, ‘visitor attacked’. Are these the messages we want out there?

Today in the Royal Gazette’s editorial the editor states “looks like another body blow for island tourism industry”, this particular Statement targeted towards the Grand Slam.

I have concluded that the editor does not know what he is talking about or is simply being malicious, you decide.

The editor goes on to say that we should spend our funds on other events such as The Rugby Classic, Newport Marion Yacht race and the Billfish, etc, and not the Grand Slam because the others give us better return on our investment.

The Ministry provides sponsorships to the Bermuda Squash Challenge, Argo Group Gold Cup, Bermuda Open Volleyball, Ross Blackie Talbot, the list goes on.

I would say to the editor of the RG that we in the Ministry can walk and chew at the same time. I would also say to the editor that if he would use his pen in a more positive light, we also would get a better return on our investment.

The Grand Slam contract finishes this year and the PGA will be looking to get a title sponsor for 2013. If they do not get a Title Sponsor, Bermuda is still on the card to hold the event in 2013. However, we in Tourism are not sitting still. We are holding discussions so that a major event can be held which will bring in even more tourists which will increase GDP.

We are in the tourism business and we absolutely must start acting like we are in the business! Our entire community MUST take responsibility and get involved.

• I have told the Staff of The Ministry that we must think ‘outside of the box’ in order to ride the wave and be ahead of our competitors. We can no longer rest on the  laurels that the standard ‘three-‘S’s of the tourism industry (Sun, Sea, and Sand) will get us by. Instead, we will have to adapt to the new demands of our visitors and embrace the new ‘three ‘S’s (Security, Sanitation and Satisfaction). Whilst at the same time promoting but yet preserving elements of our natural beauty.

• We have started discussions to address visa issues and other policies that restrict travel to our island. The Ministry of National Security and I are in discussions to remove visa requirements for visitors who come from Brazil, Russia, India and China.

• We are exploring avenues of working with our industry partners to upgrade and maintain the visitor attractions.

• We are exploring opportunities to promote our cultural heritage and local entertainment. In that light, we are working with entertainers to put on a signature event from May to October for locals and our guest alike. To make this work we need your support by encouraging your guests and friends to attend. If this fails, we all fail.

• We are exploring new markets and demographics.

• We are rethinking how we market Bermuda and the message that we want our prospective guests to receive.

• We will give the Tourism Board more authority to promote sales and marketing of our product.

• We are working with Developers to bring down the cost of constructing a hotel room. The present cost structure does not work for investors. A million dollars a room is not feasible. I would like to thank the BIU for meeting with me and agreeing with a formula to bring the cost down for a particular development. I along with the developer will share more about the agreement in the near future.

• We will shortly announce a New Advertising Agency that has been chosen.

• The Government has agreed to look at having a referendum on gaming.

• As you are aware we have chosen Travel & Leisure – Europraxis out of Spain working with a Bermuda Company OBMI to produce a 5 – 10 year Tourism plan which will be produced by the end of May. However, we are not waiting until May. The Strategic Imperative Report produced by the Tourism Board recommended some immediate goals. We are spending millions over the next few months and aggressively promoting Bermuda.

- We currently have 5 radio stations from the UK on Island broadcasting live and promoting Bermuda.

- We attended the PGA in Orlando to attract golf pros.

- We are offering free nights in the US and Canada and a $500 credit in the UK market.

- We are having a high profile event at Grand Central Station next week. In attendance will be CBS our radio partner. In the evening we will host a Trade event inviting our key travel agency and meeting partners.

I can go on and on about what we are doing to promote tourism.

I am optimistic about the future, and I believe “IT’S TIME TO DREAM AGAIN”.

I just need one of you to dream with me and catch the vision.

Robert Kennedy said “Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills -- against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32 year old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. ‘Give me a place to stand,’ said Archimedes, ‘and I will move the world.’ These men moved the world, and so can we all.”

The good book states that if we have the faith the size of a mustard seed we could move mountains.

I believe your faith like mine is greater than the size of a mustard seed. If that is the case, we could move Bermuda forward.

I will be counting on your support as we work towards bring tourism back to the strongest pillar of or economy.

Thank you.