Opportunities mount

‘Opportunities, not problems, mount for Tourism…’

When confronted with the disturbing headline – ‘Problems mount for tourism’ in the local media (Observer) a couple of weeks ago I was taken aback, perplexed even, and purposely decided to take my time in penning a response.

It seemed to me that this was, perhaps, the most negative headline imaginable to come out of the two-day 2005 Annual Tourism Conference.

The participants and attendees of the Conference held on Nov. 9th and 10th witnessed presentations on the multiple opportunities before the Cayman Islands tourism industry and frank discussion of the complex issues of environment, people and the economy of the local tourism industry.

The entire two days underscored the ongoing public/private sector partnership, where the Ministry and Department of Tourism and its tourism private sector stakeholders stood strong, side-by-side committed to make 2006 the best year ever for the industry.

Clarification

As the public sector agency responsible for developing and coordinating the business of tourism on behalf of the Government, it would be irresponsible if the Department of Tourism omitted to clarify some of the statements I made at the conference which were unfortunately, taken out of context.

Amongst other things I noted that the DOT was operating with a large number of vacancies and that, Post Ivan, we faced an increased workload and some new deliverables, with no increase in funding – but given the magnitude of the country’s recovery and rebuilding this is completely understandable. I made it clear that funding existed to fill the vacancies and we were actively recruiting. At no point did I say the Government gave us more work – yes, we have more work, but it is the result of both the upheaval left in the wake of Hurricane Ivan and the fact that we have decided to use the opportunity to correct previous problems.

The additional responsibilities are also due, in large part, to the fact that the business model for destination management is changing the world over and we have to change to keep up.

This message was delivered in a positive, upbeat manner and is the preface to the government and private sector’s 2006/07 planning process where we will inevitably have to make some choices.

I certainly did not expect that line to be news – isn’t this scenario exactly what almost all Government departments, private businesses and individual citizens are facing every day?

We are all being forced to look at our to-do lists and make hard choices because there is simply insufficient time, money and people to tackle everything immediately.

Togetherness

However, the sentiment and statements made were one of ‘together, we can do this’ and not at all of an alarmist or pessimistic nature.

As Director of Tourism it is one of my responsibilities to highlight areas that need public/private sector attention and to research and outline the possible solutions to the challenges we face as an industry. It is not news that resources are severely stretched – every government department, and many private companies are also experiencing this challenge, and this challenge leads to choices.

The tourism industry certainly has its share of challenges and choices; but, thankfully, it also has opportunities. Some of the exciting opportunities before us include the increasing demand for nature and adventure tourism, the continued growth of family travel and destination weddings, the wealthy baby boomers and the increased interest in special interest travel, e.g. for jazz or food festivals to name a few.

We have an opportunity to infuse tourism awareness in the schools and broader community.

We have an opportunity to invest in training and raise the bar on service levels across all sectors, including public transport.

We have successes – the recovery of the industry to date is seen by many visiting media and professionals as nothing short of amazing. We have tourism industry staff and small business owners who have worked themselves to the bone this past year to keep it all together and prepare for the 2006 winter season.

Therefore, it is disappointing to see a member of the local media, and of our community, focus so squarely on the negative.

Optimism

The Department of Tourism is cautiously optimistic that the winter season will be successful for the industry.

This optimism is shared by our private sector and extends well into April 2006.

Our optimism will be insured by the execution of a comprehensive marketing, promotions and public relations plan, developed jointly by the public and private sector.

Moreover, we are already working with CITA and SITA to launch the Summer 2006 programmes and in the case of CITA, the President and Executive Marketing Committee have already provided DOT with details of the Fall 2006 programme.

We are working hard to get programmes to market and aggressively go after the business to ensure the return of a viable, thriving Cayman Islands tourism industry in 2006. During the week of December 5th, 2005 the Minister will hear presentations for special events and marketing programmes being planned for January of 2007.

This type of commitment, disciplined planning and ‘seeing the glass as half full’ is critical to tourism’s forward momentum and will continue to be a key characteristic of the Department’s planning process as well as a key characteristic of public and private sector relationships.

The tourism industry is not daunted by challenges and we know there are hard decisions to make every day. Instead we choose to focus on the positive and get excited by the choices!

In closing, while it is the right of every media house in the Cayman Islands to interpret and report the news, that right comes with responsibility – responsibility to accurately inform and not mislead with sensationalist headlines or quotes taken out of context.

It seems that when a presentation talks about challenges and choices for less than five minutes and about opportunities for 30 minutes, that the public deserved a headline and an article that was, perhaps, a little more balanced.

With the Minister of Tourism’s vision and his personal commitment to the industry and the DOT clearly outlined at the Tourism Conference, coupled with the commitment of CITA, SITA and the Chamber of Commerce to the sustainable success of the tourism economy, DOT remains optimistic that these are positive, exciting times for the Cayman Islands.

The entire team at the Department of Tourism is aware that the road ahead is a long hard one, but we are inspired by our passion and commitment to the three beautiful Cayman Islands.

We remain committed to helping the Minister realize his vision for a thriving, sustainable tourism economy in the Cayman Islands which will improve the quality of life for all who live and work here.

May I take this opportunity to remind you that all visitors to the Cayman Islands, whether they arrive by airplane or cruise ship, are guests in this country, our guests and as hosts we should take a moment to make them feel welcome.

It starts with a good heart and a warm smile.

Pilar Bush,Director of Tourism