Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford has announced that construction of cruise berthing facilities in George Town is to begin by no later than the second quarter of next year.
Mr. Clifford was addressing the top cruise executives and delegates along with various heads of state present at the official opening of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association’s conference being held in Grand Cayman.
Speaking at the official opening Wednesday morning at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Mr. Clifford said ‘. . . it is imperative that we rapidly pursue the development of berthing facilities, which will be the platform for our continued success as one of the most desired western Caribbean ports.’
He continued, ‘The challenges we will face from what is an ever-increasing competitor base, if we are not visionary and progressive in the development of our cruise strategy, will be insurmountable, and that is why we have embarked on a project, which will provide berthing facilities for four ships.’
He asserted, ‘It is indeed a proud day for the Cayman Islands and in particular for the tourism industry as we have the distinct pleasure of welcoming and hosting the single largest conference ever held in the Cayman Islands and indeed the largest FCCA Conference with more than 1,200 registered delegates.’
Noting the importance of cruise tourism to the destination, he added that there are challenges for the industry and the region that must be addressed.
One of these is the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. While the cruise industry recently gained an extension to the deadline for cruise passports to as late as June 2009, air travel has still not recorded a level playing field, with its deadline looming on 8 January 2007.
While Caribbean countries and their partners are doing their best to mitigate damage from this, Mr. Clifford said that any loss of business, which is avoidable, must be strongly contested because tourism is a mainstay of a majority of Caribbean countries.
‘The Cayman Islands fully supports the US in its anti-terrorism campaign, however, we believe that the consistent application of security provisions is the most effective means of realising this goal.
‘We must be very careful that we do not seemingly create loopholes in the very security network we are trying to enhance.’
He said that any security measures that involve staggered implementation dates for different forms of travel can inadvertently undermine the very security regime that is desired within the Western Hemisphere.
‘Tackling this issue will require that we come together as a region and that we adopt, in conjunction with our partners such as the FCCA, ICCL and the airline industry, a post mid-term elections strategy to be implemented immediately after the November elections,’ he said.
One area where partners in the cruise industry can work more closely with destinations is in the area of striking a better balance with pre-booked tours, he said. ‘Cruise lines must continue to work closely with destinations to create a better balance – a balance between working with the larger tourism businesses and with the smaller, independent entrepreneurs. When these two sides of the tour equation are better balanced then the product, the guest experience and the partnership all benefit.’
Mr. Clifford also noted that investing in the sustainability of the Caribbean is highly important.
‘Neither the cruise lines, nor the destinations will have a cruise industry which benefits its stakeholders if we don’t capitalize on our strengths, strengthen our weaknesses, seize our opportunities and work together to neutralize our threats . . . and in a partnership both partners must see individual objectives realised.’
Chairman of the FCCA and Chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation Micky Arison said he was taken by Mr. Clifford’s remarks and hopefully a lot of those issues can be addressed at the conference.
Clearly there have been struggles, he said, including a recent weakness in bookings in the Caribbean.
A great deal of this is related to the two previous hurricane seasons, which were very active.
Other issues have been the passport issue and higher gasoline prices.
‘On the passport issue, we have been your strongest supporter in Washington and continue to be your strongest supporter in Washington.’
He said that it was regrettable that the airline industry did not support the effort, but he said hopefully that could be turned around.
Governor Stuart Jack welcomed all to the conference and said the aim is for Cayman Island’s visitors this week and every week to enjoy the radiance of its seas and the beauty and magic it has to offer, notwithstanding the recent wet weather.
Chairman of Cruise Line International Association Andy Stuart gave an overview of the industry, saying that last year CLIA member ships carried 11.18 million passengers, of which 9.67 million were from North America. 11.7 million cruise passengers are forecast for this year, he said.
The Caribbean accounts for nearly 40 per cent of all bookings, he said.
By the end of this year seven new ships are to be launched. CLIA and FCCA member lines will have launched an additional 25 ships through 2010.
Other highlights of the opening were a procession of flags by the Special Olympics and Scouts, the national anthem sung by Rudy Myles, the national song sung by Annick Holness, a performance by Swanky and quadrille dancers and presentations to the winners of the Children’s Caribbean Essay competition winners.
A minute’s silence was also observed during the opening for former Minister for Tourism Thomas C. Jefferson, who passed away this past week.