FRIDAY, DEC. 16: Empty executive homes should be turned into guest houses to help increase the number of beds for visitors and boost the tourism product, former Opposition leader Kim Swan said yesterday.

Mr Swan, interim leader of the UBP and St George’s South MP, said that the tourism industry had been hit by closures of hotels and cottage colonies over the last five years.

He added: “The lack of visitor accommodation is one of the challenges to the tourism industry which was recently identified by the Tourism Board in their strategic imperatives report.”

But he said: “Today the rental market is saturated with accommodations and there are far fewer people able to afford executive homes due to the exodus of foreign workers in international business.

“One option is to encourage Bermudians executive homeowners to consider converting their homes to licensed tourist accommodations. That would reverse the trend of unavailable beds and enhance tourism’s marketing efforts.

“The reality is that conversion to tourism accommodations would signal a return to the industry by Bermuda’s people and also provide jobs at the same time.

“It would also motivate locals to promote Bermuda overseas to potential clients and encourage them to become hands-on in the industry again.”

He added: “Bermuda once had numerous self-contained guest houses, many with pools, strategically located throughout the island during the glory days of tourism.

“Many of these privately-owned licensed guest houses opted out of the tourism industry when the boom years of international business provided lucrative long-term leases.”

Mr Swan said that the loss of major hotels and cottage colonies had led to job losses, fewer beds and lost opportunity to market the island to air visitors.

He added that major developments like the Park Hyatt, a new hotel in St George’s and Morgan’s Point were years away from completion.

Mr Swan said that Bermuda needed to adjust to the changed economic and social conditions brought about by decline in tourism and the impact of the economic crisis.

He added: “With an eight-month off-season, Bermuda has room for growth but needs licensed beds to market if we are to turn around our fortunes. This is an opportunity immediately waiting.

“There is a market for licensed holiday accommodations and a huge benefit by encouraging locals back into the guest house business.

“This would make it possible to engage our main resource and our Bermudian people and also help generate much-needed foreign currency in the process.”