A Bermudian entrepreneur is urging the next PLP Cabinet to think “outside the box” when it comes to tourism.

Tony Brannon said casinos and investment in local entertainment will kick-start the economy and lead us out of recession.

He also believes Bermuda should rebrand itself from a “rich” destination to one offering all-inclusive resorts and package deals.

Mr. Brannon spoke out after watching this week’s CBS show 60 Minutes, which focused on the high rate of unemployment in the U.S.  He said: “The number who cannot find a job in the U.S. for more than a year is at the highest rate since the Great Depression.

“If the greatest economic engine in the world is facing this hardship, all the signs point to Bermuda facing a long, hard slog of a recession, too.

“We’re a year behind from being completely impacted by the recession.

“But we see what looks like becoming an over-supply of condos in Bermuda, unsold fractional units in hotel developments, drastically falling retail sales, restaurants and bars doing slower business, car dealerships facing lower sales, tourism in decline and construction in freefall.

“This is something Bermudians have never faced in their lifetime.”

A survey two weeks ago by The Royal Gazette suggested one in 10 Bermudians have lost jobs in the past year.

Mr. Brannon said: “When you think in terms of the lay-offs in the construction industry and tourism, there will be a lot more people looking for jobs this winter.

“We are at a crossroads in Bermuda, particularly with Premier Dr. Ewart Brown leaving this week and the country getting a new leader.

“We must plan now and revamp the way we present our island, so when the recession subsides and people can afford to go on holiday again, we will have something fresh and exciting to offer. One of the statistics in the Innovation Group’s gaming report was that 50 per cent of all Americans make a decision on where to go on holiday on the inclusion of a gaming component.

“We need to stop policing the public’s taste. If someone wants to go to a casino, we should give them that choice.

“You won’t find a cruise ship sailing anywhere without a casino and hotels in Bermuda have to compete for passengers’ tourism dollars.

“We don’t want Bermuda to become a Las Vegas in the ocean, nor will it ever be that. But if you take a look at resorts to the south (Caribbean), such as in Aruba, casinos are tucked away tastefully in one part of the hotel.

“They provide more fun for guests and contribute to the hotel’s profits. We need to pass casino resort legislation as soon as possible — this will encourage banks to assist with finance for resorts and the new construction will help the flagging construction industry. That will have a snowball effect on the economy.

“Tourists want options and if we are to compete and be successful on the world stage we must open Bermuda up.

“We have boxed the island in by only catering to the rich and not considering the rest of the market. This is a mistake.

“We must offer an affordable vacation to the vast middle class from the U.S. and Europe that offers value for money and a great time. People create buzz and we need word of mouth. We should encourage the building of at least one or two major all-inclusive resorts and tie that in with charter air carriers from Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

“There is no reason why we cannot create a couple of resorts here like Sandals in the Caribbean.”

Mr. Brannon also suggested scrapping the Bermuda Music Festival for five years to allow public money to be invested in local entertainers. He said that over the past 10 years, the three-day event has cost $3 million on average.

Mr. Brannon added: “One of the biggest complaints we get from tourists is that there is nothing to do at night so let’s build up Bermuda.

Cyberspace

There is a lot of talent here but nowhere to perform. Let’s take this Government money and use it to select a number of places where we can put up stages, sound and lighting.”

Mr. Brannon, who is also an entertainer, ran the old 40 Thieves nightclub and Disco 40. He was also involved in Hawkins Island.

He then ventured into cyberspace and owned website bermuda.com before selling it to MediaHouse, which also owns the Bermuda Sun.

Mr. Brannon has been speaking to PLP leadership candidates and said that “everyone is aware tourism needs a shot in the arm”.

He added: “I would be delighted to work with any team connected to the next Tourism Minister or Premier. A plan or vision, together with good management, can help us make our country great again.”