Flashback: We won’t return to the College Weeks frenzy of the 1950s, but we must try to reach 2007 tourism levels again. *Photo courtesy of Scott Stallard
Flashback: We won’t return to the College Weeks frenzy of the 1950s, but we must try to reach 2007 tourism levels again. *Photo courtesy of Scott Stallard

Part I of II

What is Bermuda’s core problem? That one thing that Bermuda must do if Bermuda is to regain employment opportunities and stop economic decline? What one thing? And there is one thing.

From 1923 to 1987 Tourism was Bermuda’s nationally understood national focus. Between 1987 and 1996, Tourism faded and International Business took pole position. All Bermudians understood Tourism. All knew where they fitted in. All knew what it took to make Tourism work. Despite horrendous and unsavoury racial relations, all Bermudians still made Tourism work.

Until 1987, Bermudians played host to as many as 491,000 Air Arriving visitors. These came, stayed five days, and went back home. From 1997 on, Bermuda’s new Business was hosting Business Residents. These still arrived by air, but they stayed 365 days a year. Except to go on holiday, they never went back home. They stayed and stayed and stayed.

It was as late as 2008 that Bermudians knew enough to realize both that deep change had occurred, and that Bermuda’s national focus had shifted – radically and forever. But in 2008, the ‘great global credit crisis’ hit and, like everywhere else on the globe, Bermuda got slammed.

That global slam joined up with local politics and the combination distracted Bermudians. This distraction happened just as Bermudians were about to discover key new Bermudian facts which would allow them, nationally, to understand the need for national adjustments in order to make “Business Bermuda” work as successfully as “Tourist Bermuda” had worked.

In 2013, in a now desperate race against time and a looming economic implosion, all Bermudians need to learn fast and then rapidly make some deep national adjustments.

In five clear points, I‘ll explain and show what changed and what adjustments Bermudians need to make.

ONE – Tourism has faded

In Tourism peak year 2007, Tourism brought in $513.2m. IB and its supporting services brought in $2,064.5m – $4 from IB for every $1 from Tourism.  

Tourism, once 60% of GDP, is now barely 5% of GDP.

In 1987, Tourism employed 6,741 people. By 2008, it was down to 4,869 people while IB and its direct supporting services employed 12,619.

Hotel beds were 10,040 in 1987; now about 5,400.

Air Arriving Leisure Tourists are now down to about 160,000 and about 33% of the 491,000 peak in 1981. 

However, Tourism’s airlift (currently 10 flights a day from USA, Canada, UK) and high quality accommodation and restaurants are vital to the ambience that IB requires.

Tourism must be sustained and taken back up to the $500 million level of 2007.

TWO – Bermuda’s residential population has fallen

Honest and real residential population indications are that Bermuda’s population was 62,059 in 2000 (Census); rose to about 66,000 in 2008 (calculated/estimated); dropped to 64,237 in 2010 (Census); and has since fallen further to about 60,000 in 2012 (calculated/estimated).

This four year fall of about 6,000 (9%) in Bermuda’s residential population is the real and primary driver for Bermuda’s four year recession.

The Bermudian birth-rate (i.e. persons born in Bermuda who are Bermudian) now averages 600 per year. (Prior to 1990, this average might have been around 700.)

Bermuda’s Bermudian births matched with Bermuda’s Bermudian deaths (600 born less about 450 who die) means that Bermuda’s net gain of Bermudians is only about 150 Bermudian persons per year.

But Bermuda has a high out-migration factor made up of Bermudians who emigrate and Bermudian students who never return to live and work in Bermuda. 

So Bermuda actually has a negative growth rate for Bermudians. Meaning that each year, there are marginally fewer Bermudians. This population reality is currently obscured by the granting of Bermuda Status.

Between Census 2000 and Census 2010, Bermuda’s population of Bermudians grew from 48,746 to 50,565 by adding 1,819 Bermudian persons. However, 1,818 of these were Bermudian only because they had been granted Bermuda Status between 2000 and 2010. So only ONE additional ‘born’ Bermudian between 2000 and 2010.

Anywhere on the globe, any significant population decline will cause a national economic downturn. In Bermuda, any material and real economic growth of any kind whatsoever will require a significant rise in Bermuda’s residential population.

Since Bermudians are actually but currently marginally decreasing, any increase in Bermuda’s residential population can only be achieved by importing people.

Bermuda’s residential population must stop falling, and must start rising.

THREE - Bermuda has lots of well-paying jobs, but a very narrow job market

Lumberjack, circus performer, nuclear physicist, software design engineer, professional footballer or basket-ball player or musician, geologist, helicopter or airline pilot…?  Go overseas. These jobs don’t exist in Bermuda.

Actuary, accountant, lawyer, bus driver, tour guide, house painter, insurance underwriter, retail clerk, policeman, civil servant,….? Stay in Bermuda. These jobs do exist here.

For some job and career seeking Bermudians, Bermuda is a land of opportunity. For others, a barren desert.

One result of Bermuda’s narrow job market is that every year, Bermuda loses a big chunk of its university educated people. Bermuda compensates by importing university educated people from other lands. This modern trade in human humans and human skillsets slowly but surely unbalances and stresses our Bermudian society and affects our Bermudian culture.

Whether Bermudian or non-Bermudian, Bermuda’s total job market offers narrower opportunities than does the global market that more Bermudians can now more easily access. This results in an insidious loss of Bermudians, especially educated Bermudians. 

In part II on Friday, I will look at the role played by the changing relationship between Bermudians and guest workers and the burden of runaway national debt.