The process of establishing berthing facilities in Grand Cayman has begun, with a view to providing facilities for four ships to berth.
This was announced by Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford, who spoke at the Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at the Wharf Restaurant Wednesday, his first public presentation to the Chamber of Commerce membership since his election to office in May 2005.
‘Berthing will happen,’ he said, noting that government is in discussion with potential business partners. While he could not expand on these negotiations, he said that much more information will be forthcoming in due course.
‘We will be looking at providing facilities for four ships,’ said Mr. Clifford.
‘Berthing facilities will remove Cayman from the yesteryear of cruising and allow us to use a safer, standardised and more enjoyable experience for those who call on our shores.’
The Minister noted that he is confident that berthing will raise the standard of the cruise product, enhance the experience of cruise guests, increase economic returns by allowing those guests to stay longer, and increase the money they spend and the range of activities they can participate in.
The current tendering arrangement pales in significance when one considers the time and money spent onshore, as opposed to direct disembarkation and embarkation.
‘Berthing provides much more time onshore for activities such as golfing, visiting cultural attractions and exploring new areas, such as day trips to the Sister Islands and the exploration of eastern districts,’ he said.
The initial phase of Environmental Impact Assessment has just begun.
‘The Port Authority and Ministry are working with the Department of Environment and an international environmental firm to ensure best practises are observed in the planning, design and building of the facility.
‘The Environmental Impact Assessment will address environment and hazard vulnerability, potential environmental impact monitoring and, most importantly, the public consultation process,’ he said, noting that the public consultation process will begin by September 2006.
Answering a question from the floor in regard the fact that cruise ships coming on stream are becoming much larger, he said what he believes will ultimately happen is that when the larger ships come online, the smaller ships will tend to be redeployed to less developed areas.
But, he said, berthing facilities should provide an incentive to vessels to further improve their schedules and spread the calls out better over a week so that each time a ship calls it can have berthing and won’t have to be at anchor.
Speaking about the government’s policy to better distribute cruise arrivals, Mr. Clifford spoke about two goals: spread tourism across a wider geographical and socio-economic area; and to improve the destination’s capacity for tourism, including the better management of cruise tourism.
‘By working with potential entrepreneurs and helping them turn their vision into reality the Go East initiative will facilitate a number of new businesses in the Eastern districts,’ he said.
He emphasised the fact that cruise tourists are very interested in local culture.
‘According to our research, 21.2 per cent of those that disembarked our shores in 2006 have participated in activities to learn about Caymanian culture,’ he said.
Addressing the fact that the National Tourism Management Policy, which includes an entire section devoted to cruise management, is nearing the end of its five-year life cycle, Mr. Clifford said the government intends to have it reviewed and updated so it can continue to be implemented. This review process should take no longer than a year and will involve very broad consultation.
In future, a more sustainable approach is endorsed and accepted by the Ministry.
One of the recommendations in the NTMP is a cap of 9,200 cruise passengers per day. A lack of monitoring in the past and recent hurricane damage in ports in Mexico has caused daily numbers of cruise visitors to swell here recently.
Mr. Clifford said the Port Authority and the Department of Tourism have collaborated in the recent past to address these issues by working with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association to address the dates of scheduled visits and creating special cruise events onshore to help manage numbers.
Noting that this cap was identified in 2002, four years ago, Mr. Clifford said that a number of things have changed since that time.
One of these is the fact that the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal is already causing improved visitor experience.
However, the Minster noted that the recommended cap of 9,200 per day still allows for growth in cruise tourists per year.
He gave an example that if 9,200 passengers visited five days per week, year-round, that would result in approximately 2.3 million cruise passengers per annum. The highest cruise number in recent years was 1.8 million in 2003.
Mr. Clifford noted that when properly managed, cruise tourism and stay-over tourism can absolutely co-exist.