The Scent of Change?

According to the Minister for Tourism, Bermuda’s hoteliers have finally admitted that one of Bermuda’s errors of the past was an overweening arrogance. This admission gives the first glimmer of real hope that the battle to revive and restructure Bermuda’s Hospitality Industry can now start to go somewhere.

            Of course we made mistakes! How else did we get all those carcasses and ghosts?

            Businesses that change in the right way thrive and survive. Ford Motors stuck with the Model ‘T’ until the Ford Motor Co almost went out of business. It then changed. It survived.  The company paid a lot more attention to consumer needs and wants. It grew again. It’s still around today. And it’s still changing.

            If a business doesn’t change in the right way, it dies and disappears. Remember Olivetti? Pan American Airways? Austin Motors?

            Businesses that make bad mistakes or that are badly managed also disappear. Enron? Arthur Andersen Accounting?

            That has happened to companies that were even bigger than Bermuda. Bigger because their annual sales revenues dwarfed our entire Bermudian economy. Bigger because they had even more employees than Bermuda had people.

            So it stands to reason that we could have made a national strategic error in our Tourist Industry. Bermudian we may be, but we’re still human.

            Now that we seem to have come to our national senses, we need to take the next step.

            Cut loose from our past style of managing tourism. Let the sales and marketing people market whatever it is that Bermuda can still sell. Let the government concentrate on making this a safe and clean destination with good infrastructure. Let the government underpin, underwrite, and support those real initiatives that will really work for and in our best national interests.

            What, then, will work for us? Nationally?

            We do need to support and subsidize local arts programs so as to spark up and retain our fast eroding national Bermudian identity. So we’ll need to support musicians, artists, and entertainers. May even have to help train and groom them.

            We do need to support and sustain local initiatives to regenerate a retail and general service atmosphere of swift and friendly personal service in all areas of human interaction. We have to do this in order to provide a national ambience of good service that will fit the total ‘package’ that we’ll be trying to sell to our ‘upper income’ visitors.

            Maybe we do need to run our very own three plane airline – loss-making though it may be  – so that we can best influence airline ticket prices. Or we may need to subsidize the existing airlines so that ‘getting here’ costs are taken as low as possible so that we compare better with our actual competition.

            Oh, I know, some hands are already going up and some eyes are already rolling back in horror at suggestions of ‘subsidies’.  But I do recall – and do correct me if I’m wrong! –  that those Bermudians who made those first decisions that gave birth, eighty years ago, to our national tourist industry, did so by subsidizing Furness Withy & Co. Further, they continued to subsidize Furness Withy – and other hospitality industry entities – for forty years, right up to the 1960’s.

            And have we all – so conveniently – forgotten Bermuda-based Bermuda-owned ‘Eagle Airways’ that used to fly Viscount turbo-props from here to the UK and the USA?

            There are things that can only be done by the private sector. But there are other things that must be supported by government funding, though still actually accomplished by the private sector.

            After twenty years of ducking and dodging, if we’re really going to really move forward, the Minister may have to do some major amputations. As well, some major rerouting of funds and attention, some re-directing of energies. But above all else, some real trail-breaking!

            However, through all this, there must run an unbroken vein of honest thinking that weighs all options against our best national interests. The national strategic error of our national past was to think narrowly and to assume that whatever was good for this year’s ‘bottom line’ was equally as good for the country. That was our national mistake!

            The Minister’s most recent statements [around the 4th December] are like puffs of new air. It’s as if she’s going down a corridor and leaving, in her passing, the refreshing scent of new thinking. Rather like a woman who walks past you and leaves the air of her perfume lingering, tantalizingly, in your nostrils. It’s as if I’ve got a whiff, not of Nina Ricci’s ‘L’Air du Temps’,  instead, I’m getting the aroma of ‘L’Air du Renee’.


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