Michael Dunkley has told MPs that he had been assured by a principal of the St Regis development in St George’s that the hotel will be built before the residences.
The Premier was responding to repeated claims by Progressive Labour Party MP Zane DeSilva in recent weeks, reiterated again on Friday night, that he had heard the residences would be built first.
Mr Dunkley rose during the motion to adjourn to “set the record straight” and to enable Mr DeSilva to “get that bird off his shoulder”.
“I reached out to the principals of the development and he told me that St Regis would never allow the selling of any residence if the hotel is not finished and running.
“The principal added: ‘if we built and sold the residences before the hotel, those residences cannot be branded St Regis and this is the last thing we would want’.”
Mr Dunkley’s comments came after the tourism budget debate in which Mr DeSilva again questioned progress of the project and whether the hotel would be built first.
Delivering his budget brief Kenneth Bascome, the Junior Minister of Tourism, said improving the health of the tourism industry is a “national imperative”.
He praised the hard work of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, noting increasing visitor arrivals and visitor spending, adding that the authority has proven that it can maximise return on investment.
Mr Bascome added that the BTA was “bullish” on continued success for the coming year.
Jamahl Simmons also praised the hard work of the BTA, but said the body had struggled owing to a lack of advertising funds and a reliance of the “old paradigm” of Bermuda as a country club.
And while he said the America’s Cup could be beneficial, it fits in with the old paradigm, questioning if it will bring the island much needed attention from the wider audience.
“If we slip back into the old ways, it will fail,” he said. “We have to move beyond tourism that is self-referential and our goals must be more than self-satisfaction.”
Mr Simmons also questioned the repeated delays in the groundbreaking at the proposed St George’s hotel, saying: “The Government needs to be honest and straight up with the people about why there are delays. It’s important.”
He questioned the metrics used to select “experience investments”, saying that some of the events that have benefited from the grant appear to be legacy events focused more on entertaining locals than visitors.
And he called on the Government to show a light hand in the area of regulating vacation rentals, saying that should taxes be introduced they should be balanced with concessions to allow that aspect of the industry to grow.
Independent MP Shawn Crockwell also celebrated the success of the BTA, saying the body had worked extremely hard to turn around the industry from “rock bottom”.
He said he was pleased to see the BTA’s grant increased, commenting that he had repeatedly asked for budget increases during his time as tourism minister.
However, he questioned the wisdom of moving control of golf courses to another ministry, saying the heading has been bounced around too often, and took fierce aim at the Casino Gaming Commission (see story on Page 2).
Opposition MP Wayne Furbert meanwhile said that the Progressive Labour Party deserved some of the credit for the revitalisation of tourism on the grounds that the Bermuda Tourism Plan, developed under the PLP’s watch, is at the core of the BTA’s work.
He also noted the boost in sports tourism, saying that the initiative would not be as much of a success without the investment made in the National Stadium by the PLP.
Mr Furbert also reiterated questions about the lack of movement in the St George’s hotel project and described the construction of The Loren at Pink Beach as “nothing to get excited about”.
He said the core issue behind the lack of new hotels is the expense of doing business in Bermuda, questioning the logic of ending payroll tax exceptions and questioning what the government is doing to bring down costs.