Tourism heading East

The districts of Bodden Town, East End and North Side already have a good variety of tourist attractions, but there is room for development of related businesses on an appropriate scale.

Go East participants

Go East participants at the Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre raise questions: (from left) Brian and Mitzi Tomlinson, Katherine Whittaker, Shanalyn Ebanks, Edroy Barnes and Joey Ebanks. Photo: DoT

That was just part of the message delivered in North Side on Saturday at the daylong Go East tourism workshop.

More than 40 people heard Mr. Charles Clifford, Minister for Tourism, set the tone for the meeting with his explanation of sustainable tourism and analysis of what makes the Eastern Districts successful.

Development does not necessarily mean bricks and mortar, he pointed out. Cayman needs to develop its resources ‘in a way which will not destroy the very essence of what makes them special, but which will allow us to share them with our visitors,’ Mr. Clifford emphasised.

He referred to a recent one-day tour of Eastern District facilities by tourism officials. ‘While we were aware of the diversity of the product which exists, many agencies were impressed by the high quality of this product which rivals anything offered anywhere else in Grand Cayman, or indeed anywhere in the world,’ he said.

‘The real difference in the Eastern Districts is that the first-class service is still delivered mainly with a Caymanian smile, a rustic charm and an undisturbed natural beauty. The distinct culture, heritage, and history of this country are delivered in an intimate setting, leaving those who have experienced this intoxicating mixture thirsting for more.

‘As a result, there is reportedly a high level of visitor satisfaction and by extension a high level of repeat business associated with these areas,’ Mr. Clifford observed. ‘Clearly, the future of the tourism industry, and by extension, the Cayman Islands, does not lie in mass tourism.’

His message was basically the same as the one he delivered in Savannah for the first ‘Go East’ presentation (Caymanian Compass, 12 April).

But North Siders had different questions and concerns, all of which were addressed by the Minister or Director of Tourism Pilar Bush or Director of the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau Dax Basdeo.

When someone mentioned marketing and advertising, for example, Ms Bush advised that the department develops new material June to September so that it will be ready for the new season in November. If people want their business to be part of an Eastern Districts brochure, now is the time to make themselves known, she indicated.

Visitors should be able to find things, she pointed out. They like driving around with a brochure. Even if no new attractions were created, work could be done to enhance the interpretation of heritage and culture in the districts, Ms Bush said.

Ms Bush reinforced some of Mr. Clifford’s remarks when she related what happened after Hurricane Ivan. DoT’s New York office was inundated with calls from Americans who wanted to know if the Caymanians they had met had come out all right.

The people they asked about included the housekeepers and taxi drivers, Ms Bush noted, because these were the people who had helped them enjoy their stay. That kind of interaction had formed the foundation of tourism in Cayman.

Several questions touched on cruise ship tourism. In response, Mr. Clifford said he was not advocating an increase in the numbers involved in cruise tourism. He was more interested in distributing those numbers and making sure the economic benefits were more equitably distributed.

He said the wishes of the people in each district had to be respected. Asked about Cayman Kai in particular, he agreed it was a sensitive area. He said he didn’t want a repetition of problems experienced along Seven Mile Beach. ‘We understand that problem and we’re not transporting it to the Eastern Districts,’ he asserted.

Cruise ship berthing is still being studied, he said. Entities involved include the Port Authority, Lands and Survey and the Department of the Environment. One problem, he explained, is the huge liability issue arising from the use of tenders in darkness. If berthing for cruise ships is not pursued, Cayman will rapidly become non-competitive, he warned.

Ms Bush advised that doing business with cruise lines is different from doing business with land-based customers. There will be local workshops offered for persons interested, she announced, with topics including facilities, insurance and contracts.

Asked about zoning changes, Mr. Clifford said Mr. Kurt Tibbetts, Leader of Government Business, had put the Development Plan on the fast track.

Mr. Basdeo fielded questions about loans after one man complained that he could get a loan to build, but not for working capital.

Another serious expense is insurance, he agreed. Mr. Basdeo said Hurricane Ivan had revealed that 60 per cent of small businesses had been underinsured. There had been talk of forming a Small Business Association to help address the problem.

He also explained how the Investment Bureau, Development Bank, DoT and the Angel Investment Network could assist with advice and business plans.

All three speakers touched on the variety of possibilities for a tourism-related business. These include nature and ecotourism, health and wellness, adventure, agro-tourism and community-based. Ms Bush spoke of the need not to misrepresent what we have.

Agro-tourism is not limited to growing crops for use in hotels and restaurants, she pointed out. Someone could develop a garden tour by growing herbs and ornamentals and posting information about the plants. That experience could be augmented by serving a snack on the front porch afterwards. The enterprising person could also have preserves to sell.

Ms Bush also spoke of the need to protect and enhance the marine environment. People may not want to be on the water or under it, but they want to be near it, she pointed out.

The next Go East initiative is scheduled for East End, with a date to be confirmed.

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