Tourism growth needed

Director of Tourism Pilar Bush set the tone for tourism in 2006 by saying that it’s not enough to get up to 2004 air arrival levels – the country needs to double 2005 numbers to get to 2006 goals.

Speaking at the second and final day of the Fifth Annual Tourism Conference at the Westin Hotel, Ms Bush said that catching up on 2004 air arrivals is not enough, because this is merely going back to what amounted to three years hard work to get arrivals figures back up following a slump after 9/11.

‘We have to double our 2005 numbers to get to 2006 goals,’ she commented, citing the rise in the cost of doing business as one reason why the air arrivals jump is needed.

While looking at the Department of Tourism’s visitor arrivals statistics, she pointed out that this year’s air arrivals have been approximately 50 per cent of last year’s figure, while cruise tourism arrivals for this year are almost on track with last year’s.

With regard to DoT’s focus on service excellence in the industry, Ms Bush echoed CITA President Karie Bergstrom’s speech when she pointed out that service quality poses a challenge.

Pointing out that those on the front line of the tourism industry, such as those working in the dive industry are facing a tough time trying to find affordable accommodation, this puts pressure on the service industry.

Ms Bergstrom said that 600 (out of 1,000) new Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman employees have still not secured accommodation on the island, and will need to. Some people already have turned down jobs in the tourism industry because they have not been able to find affordable housing. This could lead to a labour shortage, she warned, which results in a stressed labour force and ultimately a lower level of customer service.

However, during her presentation, Ms Bush said that, like any excellent brand, she would love to have service become one of the key components of what Cayman uses to justify a price premium, and this is something to be strived for. It could be turned into what will set Cayman apart from other destinations.

The need to get more Caymanians involved in tourism was voiced by CITA and DoT and those on the floor. Ongoing initiatives involve school programmes, working with UCCI, and the possibility of getting tourism into the school curriculum. Ms Bergstrom said parents and public also need to be targeted.

Ms Bergstrom pointed out that many hotels partner with schools and the UCCI for this purpose and the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman has also come on board with the UCCI.

Ms Bush also said that DoT has followed Deloitte in creating its own Human Capital Consulting unit for the industry, and had signed on as a client of Deloitte’s.

On a very positive note, Ms Bergstrom said Cayman is being upheld as a model in the Caribbean for how it bounced back following Hurricane Ivan. She got this feedback from government ministers at a recent Caribbean Tourism Organisation Conference in the USVI. ‘We’ve recovered, and if other Caribbean islands are looking to us as a model then we need to give ourselves a pat on the back,’ she said.

She commented that the huge amounts of money the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman will spend on marketing its launch in Grand Cayman in the first year gives a wonderful opportunity to the island to piggyback on that.

In her presentation, Ms Bergstrom said that although there has been an increase in crime, this is still the safest destination in the Caribbean.

Ms Bush pointed out that DoT is operating with 23 per cent of job vacancies.

‘After Hurricane Ivan our scope has diversified and expanded and we need to prioritise what we can respond to,’ she said, explaining that the DoT had been granted a little grace period before getting back to work on the National Tourism Management Policy. Ms Bush explained that the NTMP is something Tourism Minister Charles Clifford is pressing to get ahead with and there is to be a meeting the end of this month with the steering committee.

A major theme of the conference has been the strong working relationship between the Ministry, DoT and the CITA.