FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7: The Government announced changes this week designed to help retailers.

They gave retailers a six-month holiday from paying payroll tax, and hiked the duty on goods people bring with them through the airport to 35 per cent.

I hope the changes make retailers happy, at least happy enough to offset the unhappiness the changes will cause inbound shoppers.

Retailing could use some cheering. It was once the source of some pretty big Bermuda fortunes. Now, as often as not, it is the source of despair and bankruptcy.

But it’s hard to see how the changes announced this week are much more than gestures of support.

Even if they’re good ideas, they do not deal with the core problem, which is vanishing customers.

Backbone

The number of tourists has plummeted over recent years, and tourists were the backbone of the retail trade.

The duty change and payroll tax break won’t change that at all.

International business proved an important replacement, with their executives and employees playing the role of high-spending, long-stay visitors — which is exactly what they are, and we would be wise to remember it more often.

Now they’ve been cutting back pretty significantly.

In some cases, the high-powered executives who once ran their companies from offices in Hamilton are now pulling the strings from New York or London.

In some cases, large numbers of jobs have been eliminated. In others, entire companies have left completely.

With them, of course, they took their wallets. They are no longer walking into Bermuda stores and buying cars and clothes and groceries.

Again, the retail changes announced this week do nothing to address this.

If anything, the higher airport duties add another irritation to those international company workers already feel when they enter Bermuda, unfolding work permit papers and rummaging for little yellow slips to prove duty has been paid on their mobile phones and laptops.

It will do even less to win the affection of their spouses, returning through the airport after US shopping trips.

There are many different forces at work in these devastating declines, and the amount that Bermuda itself is to blame — with high prices, for example, or work permit restrictions — is often unclear and hard to measure.

But it is surely beyond question that, having no other source of income, we have to do everything in our power to make sure we welcome people to our shores.

We can’t just nibble around the edges, with a little duty adjustment here and there, or the stretched-out promise of a 10-year work permit that an unknown number of executives may or may not get one day, if they haven’t left already.

There is still too much casual disregard for how Bermuda appears, sounds and feels to foreigners who come to us bearing money.

There is still too much surliness in greetings and too much petty bureaucracy. There are too many tourists stranded because of broken buses, or run off the road by speeding trucks.

Infuriating

There is still too much infuriating and inexplicable delay and lack of communication in the work permit process, even for people who Bermuda needs and for whom there is no replacement.

We make it too easy for visitors — be they tourists or guest workers — to get frustrated and head for other places with a warmer welcome.

We are Bermudians and this is our island. But we have to meet the needs and expectations of tourists and workers from beyond our shores as though our lives depend on it.

Because they do.