In the hot seat: William Hanbury is the new CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead
In the hot seat: William Hanbury is the new CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

Let’s focus on the culture and people of Bermuda.

That was the call yesterday from the man charged with turning around the tourism industry. 

During his introduction to the media at the Tourism Authority’s Church Street offices, William A. Hanbury said: “I think it’s obvious to everyone that tourism in Bermuda must improve. There’s been a 30-year-decline in tourism on the island.”

Noting the projected increase in wealthy American households in coming years, Mr Hanbury, the Bermuda Tourism Authority’s new CEO, referred to Bermuda as a “luxury product…. we need to go to the luxury marketplace,” before adding “I would also say to you we have to build products that go to a wider swath”.

Casino gambling will not be a panacea for Bermudian tourism, according to Mr Hanbury.

“I don’t believe it’s a silver bullet. I think it can be helpful. It can expand our tourism offerings. In certain niches it can be valuable. I don’t think it is a cure-all.”

The new Tourism Authority has  effectively taken the reins of running that industry from the government. Last month, the authority’s board of directors was unveiled. Selecting a CEO was considered to be among the most crucial tasks of the board.

David Dodwell, who is the authority board’s chairman, hopes the authority will be self-funded within two years. Currently, the authority is funded mostly with public money.

Mr Hanbury, meanwhile, said Bermuda tourism could do a better job of focusing on the culture and the people of the island. He said that while concentrating on beaches is great, there are many potential beach destinations in the world.

“The culture and the people is something that has been lost,” he said.

Mentor

Bermudians, he said, will have priority for jobs in the new organization. Mr Hanbury said he did not plan on holding the position “forever” and indicated he would groom and mentor several potential successors while here.

The length of Mr Hanbury’s contract — like other contract details — is unclear. 

The authority will not disclose his salary nor any additional stipends or perks that come with the new post. The authority has indicated the salary is within the normal range for such a position in the global tourism industry.

According to US tax forms posted on the website of his previous employer, the United Way of the National Capital Area, Mr Hanbury made more than $358,000 in direct compensation, in addition to another $58,000, which is listed as the “estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations.” The 2011 tax forms are the most recent listed on the site.

The BTA declined to disclose yesterday how Mr Hanbury’s new salary compares to his total 2011 compensation of $416,000.

Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell said the new CEO’s salary, which is being funded with taxpayers’ money, would not be divulged because it could put the authority at a competitive disadvantage in attracting well qualified candidates for tourism jobs in Bermuda.

“Our position is that this is not the first entity that if funded by the government that is managed privately and that there’s a respect of those private relationships. You have the Hospitals Board, you have the Bermuda Monetary Authority, you have the Bermuda Business organization,” he said. “It is managed privately and we don’t think it’s appropriate that the contractual details of not just the CEO, but of all employees, be open to the public.”

Earlier in the press conference, Mr Hanbury had pledged transparency, saying: “The only time things will go out of bounds is when we’re talking about legal issues or personnel issues that aren’t appropriate to be in the media, but other than that we’re going to be as transparent as possible.”

When pressed about whether there was an inherent hypocrisy in professing transparency while declining to detail a publicly-funded salary, Mr Crockwell said: “Our position is clear and it’s not novel. This is something that exists with other entities with similar structures.”

Mr Hanbury has experience running various chambers of commerce, tourism entities and nonprofits in locales such as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hilton Head, South Carolina and Washington DC, among others. 

“It’s not going to be bureaucratic,” he said of the new tourism entity. “We’re going to be results-oriented and we’re going to be held accountable to our results.”

Specifically, he highlighted his experience making Washington DC an appealing destination in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, as the president and CEO of Destination DC. He left his last job, as president and CEO of United Way of National Capital Area, intending to retire. Yesterday he indicated he is not wired for that kind of life yet.

“This is the preeminent job in the world for me. I couldn’t run another convention bureau of chamber of commerce in the United States,” he said.