advertisement

If there's a sore point among Bermudians today, it's their extreme desire to separate themselves from the islands of the Caribbean, particularly from The Bahamas, in the eyes of the world. They often send angry letters to publishers of maps, reference sources, and travel guides, insisting that Bermuda is not in the Caribbean. As one irate Bermudian put it, "You don't claim that Washington, D.C., is part of Dallas, Texas. They're the same distance apart that Bermuda is from the Caribbean."

Bermuda prides itself on its lack of economic, socioeconomic, and racial problems, many of which plague the Caribbean islands. Bermuda does not tolerate unsavory businesses. What the island would really like to be known for is its stellar performance in banking and multinational business.

During the first decade of the millennium, international business has positioned itself to overtake tourism as Bermuda's primary source of revenue. Before China's takeover of Hong Kong, Bermuda persuaded some of the biggest names in world business to create official domiciles on the island. The trend began in the 1970s, when some Hong Kong businesspeople formed low-profile shipping, trading, and investment companies in Bermuda -- companies that became, in essence, corporate cash cows. That trend continues to positively affect Bermuda's economy.

When Britain surrendered Hong Kong to China in 1997, Bermuda became the largest British colony. A local businessman watched the televised ceremonies in which Britain handed over control, and gleefully remarked, "All we can say is: Thank you very much, Hong Kong, because here come the insurance companies and pension funds." By the end of the 20th century, nearly half of the companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange -- and even some of the Chinese government's own holding companies -- had established a legal presence in Bermuda, because Bermuda provides such hefty tax breaks. Amazingly, tiny Bermuda has emerged as the biggest and most prosperous of all of Britain's colonies, the bulk of which are now in the Caribbean.

In the early years of the 21st century, Bermuda continues to attract a growing number of American companies that are incorporating in Bermuda to lower their taxes without giving up the benefits of doing business in the United States. Insurance companies have led the way, but now manufacturers and other kinds of companies are following. It's been trumpeted in the press as "profits over patriotism." Becoming a Bermudian company is a paper transaction that can save millions annually.

And as aggressively as Bermuda is pursuing business, it's also more aware than ever of its fragile environment. Bermuda's population density is the third highest in the world, after Hong Kong's and Monaco's. Because the number of annual visitors is 10 times higher than the population, Bermuda has had to take strong initiatives to protect its natural resources. Environmental protection takes the form of stiff anti-litter laws, annual garbage cleanup campaigns, automobile restrictions, cedar replanting (a blight in the '40s and '50s wiped out the native trees), lead-free gasoline, a strict fishing policy, and other measures.

Along the shaky road to self-government, Bermuda had some ugly racial conflicts. Riots in 1968 built up to the assassination of the British governor in 1973. But that was a long time ago; today, Bermuda has the most harmonious race relations in this part of the world, far better than those in the United States, the Caribbean, or The Bahamas. There's still a long way to go, but Bermudians of African descent have assumed important political, administrative, and managerial posts in every aspect of the local economy. Bermuda hasn't quite reached the point where the color of your skin is unimportant, but it has made more significant advancement toward that goal than its neighbors to the south.

In the 21st century, Bermuda's average household income rose to a healthy $68,500 -- contrast that with some of the less fortunate islands in the Caribbean, many of which don't even have the budgets to compile such statistics. Compared with residents of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and certainly Haiti, no one is really poor in Bermuda. On the downside, home prices in Bermuda are at least three times the median cost of a house in the United States or Canada.

As a tourist destination, Bermuda has impeccable credentials. It was a resort long before Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, and many other places. Over the years, it has successfully exploited its position in the northwest Atlantic between North America and Europe. It is even working to throw off its image as a staid resort, hoping to project a lively, more with-it atmosphere (although it has a long way to go in that department). The United States remains its largest market -- about 86% of visitors are Americans -- but in recent years more and more visitors from Europe, the Far East, and the Near East have been seen dining, drinking, and shopping in the City of Hamilton.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.