Will big ships sink small islands?

An article in English newspaper The Daily Telegraph highlights Grand Cayman in relation to cruise tourism under the headline ‘Will big ships sink small islands?’

The article, which appeared on Saturday, 21 May spans two pages of the broadsheet publication in the Travel section and shows photographs of berthed cruise ships, passengers and Caribbean creatures including stingrays.

Reported by Peter Hughes and Bernice Davison, the article focuses on gridlock and crowds caused by too many cruise ships on small islands, along with the environmental impacts of huge numbers of tour groups.

Focusing on a morning when eight ships docked in George Town, Grand Cayman, the article quotes local resident Bill Bissell, saying, ‘Something like 20,000 people landed in a town with a population of not much more than 3,000. There was gridlock – three-hour traffic jams,’ he said.

This is something, the article points out, for which passengers stand to lose out as much as locals.

‘Places such as the British Virgin Islands (where there is a plan to prevent concentrations of visitors at specific beaches and attractions), Aruba, Belize, the US Virgin Islands and Grand Cayman have neither the space nor infrastructure to absorb the sudden influx of visitors that today’s big ships discharge.

‘The problem is born of success. After all, a Caribbean cruise is still one of the totems of romantic tourism, and cruising has shown a robust immunity to the post 9/11 depression that deterred many people from taking holidays.

What’s more, many cruises are cheaper than holidays on land.’

It points out that last year bookings in the North American market showed a growth of about 8.5 per cent.

The article also says that the cruise industry is growing: Thirty-six new ships, with an average capacity of 2,000 passengers, will be delivered to the US-based cruise lines within the next four years – seven out of 10 will head for the Caribbean. Cruising, no matter how it likes to present itself, is essentially a mass activity, it says.

The article also mentions wildlife biologist Geddes Hislop, who leads nature walks on Grand Cayman. It says he was asked by a cruise company if he would run excursions for groups of 30. ‘I had to tell them that my usual number was between six and eight,’ he is quoted as saying.

‘The significance of this is that most Caribbean islands, desperate to keep up visitor numbers, are turning to their often neglected natural resources – their flora and fauna – to extend and vary their tourist appeal’, says the feature.

The article points to growing cruise arrival figures in Grand Cayman and falling air-arrival figures during the past few years, saying the pattern is important because stay-over visitors spend 12 times as much per head.

It goes on to ponder the reasons for the fall of air-arrival figures.

‘A study prepared for the Cayman Islands government by the Tourism Company, a London-based consultancy, suggests the high-spending hotel guests are staying away because they are fed up with fighting their way through the throngs of day trippers from the cruise ships. It found the growing imbalance between the two types of visitors was one of the overriding issues raised by the islands’ tourism professionals.’

The article also quotes CITA President and Hyatt Regency Hotel General Manager Mark Bastis, Cayman Turtle Farm Managing Director Ken Hydes, and Rod McDowall, General Manager of Red Sail Sports, commenting on the effects of large cruise numbers.

The article goes on to point out that the limit on cruise tourist numbers was abandoned after the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001.

‘Now, says the Tourism Company, George Town is accepting up to 14,000 passengers a day.’

The article ends with Mr. Bissell saying the time is coming when cruise ships will need the Caribbean more than the Caribbean needs cruise ships’.

The writers comments: ‘That development could benefit the cruise passengers as much as the islanders’.

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