The opening of the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal is the first step of many to better manage the Cayman Islands’ cruise product in coming years.
These were the words of Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford at the official opening of the new cruise facility on Friday.
Mr. Clifford said with nearly two million guests coming into George Town port each year the need for enhanced tender facilities and additional capacity for handling them cannot be ignored.
Although details for the already announced berthing facilities are still being hammered out, he assured attendees that they would be developed with due consideration for the port’s medium to long-term cargo operations.
‘Berthing facilities will take us to the next and ultimate level in cruise tourism,’ he said.
Mr. Clifford said the opening of the terminal represents not only the continuing development of the Cayman Islands partnership with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, but also the superior experience, which cruise guests are now going to experience when they arrive in the Cayman Islands.
Noting the importance of cruise tourism he cited those that benefit from it, including taxi drivers, tour operators, retail owners, artisans, water sports and restaurant operators.
FCCA President Michele Paige said the association had joined forces with the Cayman Islands on this cruise terminal because first impressions for their passenger are crucial.
‘It will determine if they are going to go back onto the ship, if they’re going to go on the tours, to restaurants, to shopping, to all of the wonderful things that Cayman has to offer. Remember, happy passengers spend more than unhappy passengers.’
Eighty-six per cent of the passengers that come to the Cayman Islands have had such a fantastic experience that they want to come back for a long hotel stay.
The forthcoming cruise FCCA conference, which is being held in Grand Cayman, is important, she said, because it underlines the relationship that the FCCA and the Cayman Islands has.
She presented a plaque to Mr. Clifford from the FCCA member lines. The Minister thanked the FCCA for its support and long-term commitment to Cayman. The FCCA provided the financing for the project.
Speaking about the outstanding issues with respect to the Royal Watler project, which have been reported by the auditor general, Mr. Clifford said the issues will have to be debated in due course when the Public Accounts Committee tables its report on the Auditor General’s findings.
‘But these issues not withstanding, no-one can deny the fact that this project was a necessary one which will do much to enhance our cruise product and our cruise guest experience,’ he said.
The report, which was made public recently, concluded that although financially viable, the project was poorly planned and managed, resulting in the project costing $4.2 million more than it could have.
Port Authority Chairman Wayne Panton said with regard to the issues that Mr. Clifford had mentioned, that the current board set out, over a year ago, to employ an open, transparent and fair process to resolve some of the issues. ‘We feel that we have successfully accomplished that,’ he said.
All legal actions resolved have been in favour of the Port Authority, he said.
The Board of Directors has complete confidence in senior management of the Port Authority, he said.
‘They now have a fully supported environment in which they can utilise their full range of experience, talent and judgement under the guidance of the board for the benefit of the Port Authority and ultimately the country.’
Mr. Brainard Watler, son of the late Royal Watler, said he was proud to be able to stand up and acknowledge and represent his father. He also felt humbled to know that the wonderful facility had been named in his memory.
He told interesting stories about his father and described him as a very humble man.
Minister Clifford noted that Royal Watler went to sea as a young man and was captain of his father’s sailing schooners. He also went to America and sailed on four-masted ships and worked with his uncle on dredge boats on the Mississippi River. On his return to Grand Cayman he was employed as a customs officer at the George Town port. Other positions he held include warehouse keeper and assistant collector. ‘His work ethic was unquestionable. He never took a vacation and he was seldom sick. For many years he served his country faithfully and enjoyed his work.’
The late Royal Watler is a fine example for today’s youth and Mr. Clifford said he hoped with this terminal named after him, they would be inspired to do research on him and learn from the example.
Permanent Secretary with the Ministry of Tourism Gloria McField-Nixon noted that Grand Cayman is fourth in the Caribbean as a visited cruise port.
Cruise executives present at the opening were Michael Ronan, chairman of the FCCA Operations Committee and with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Hans Hesselberg of Costa Cruises.