Surveys prompt Go East feedback

Official surveys are to shortly be conducted in the Eastern Districts as one way of gaining feedback from the communities as a key element of developing the policy framework for the Go East Initiative.

Surveys prompt Go East feedback

Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford, right, with, from left: Chairman East End District Committee Mervyn Conolly; Chairman Bodden Town District Committee Emile S. Levy; and Chairman North Side District Committee Joey Ebanks.
Photo: Cliodhna McGowan

At the Sustainable Tourism Development Forum Saturday at Pedro St. James, the three Go East District Committees (Bodden Town, North Side and East End) and the Go East Business Development Committee discussed various issues with the Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford and key government representatives.

The surveys to be conducted in the three Eastern districts will involve getting better feedback from a wider area of the communities as to how they want his initiative to develop.

‘The first round of forums that we had in the three districts, we had good representation at those meetings, but we believe it’s time now to go into the wider community to get wider feedback to essentially inform the policy framework,’ Mr. Clifford said,

Permanent Secretary with the Ministry of Tourism Gloria McField-Nixon explained that there are basically going to be two types of surveys conducted. One will involve residents and the types of business they’re looking for and what concerns they might have and, secondly, there’s going to be a follow-up by the Investment Bureau specifically with the businesses in the districts to see what challenges they face.

The surveys are being launched this month with results to be shared in late January.

‘After that we will come together, look at those and then go with the note to Cabinet on what district feedback has been and also that they have some understanding on what the key framework is that is being recommended for Go East,’ she explained. ‘We will also consult with the districts the results of their own survey and then work towards finalising a policy towards the latter end of the financial year, around April.’

A central survey for Bodden Town and North Side will question people on what type of businesses they would like to see come out of Go East.

East End has done its own specific survey, which will be conducted door to door in the district. Chairman of the East End District Committee Mervyn Conolly said they want to make sure they understand how the community is feeling through this survey.

The committee wants to have the tranquillity of East End continue, he said, alongside its cottage industries. While they want to ensure there are business opportunities, they also want the entire district to have gained value from any development. Eco-adventure, agro-tourism and adventure tourism are avenues they’d like to explore and they want all physical buildings to blend into the environment, he said.

Each district committee has already identified inventories of existing business in their community and informally ascertained what people in their districts want to see happen.

‘People are anxiously waiting for the development of Bodden Town.’ said Chairman of the Bodden Town District Committee Emile S. Levy.

Heads from the Department of Environment, The Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Tourism and the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau were on hand at the forum on Saturday as technical advisors.

Mr. Clifford explained why.

‘Because in developing the Go East initiative and finalising the policy framework we want to ensure that what we take into consideration all the social, environmental and infrastructural implications,’ he said.

‘We want to make sure that what we do going forward is truly sustainable and that it has the support from the communities.’

He said activity from Go East is already happening in the districts.

A bed and breakfast is under construction in Bodden Town along with some other initiatives in North Side, but he has no specific numbers of businesses springing up.

‘From the time this initiative was launched, immediately after that we saw a tremendous amount of interest in it but we want to make sure that we have the proper policy framework in place to essentially influence the type of development that we would like to see in the Eastern Districts.

‘So, in the absence of having that policy finalised we’re having to use our existing tourism management policy and common sense and understanding the cultural norms in the districts to essentially encourage the development in a certain direction.’

Hotel and condo developers have also shown tremendous interest in Go East, he said.

‘We want to make sure that what is in their plans is going to fit within the cultural norms of the district and that what they are actually undertaking in terms of development is truly going to be sustainable.’

One of the issues discussed at the forum centred on once a policy is agreed on, what legislative changes might be necessary to facilitate the type of development desired for the Eastern districts. This could be anything from planning regulations to trade and business licence regulations, said the Minister.

Ms McField-Nixon added, ‘That takes into consideration the fact that our current legislation facilitates large scale developments. But with the encouragement of Go East the focus is to make sure we also encourage scale-appropriate developments within the district and that change in scale has to be reflected in the legislation when it’s being reviewed to make sure that we also make room at the table for smaller scale developments.’

The tranquillity and tropical island feel of all three eastern districts is something Mr. Clifford said he wants to keep.

‘In progressing this initiative we want to make sure that we don’t lose that, because that is perhaps the most valuable part of our product in the Eastern Districts.’

Feedback that has been acquired by the district committees from their communities over the past months was also discussed at the meeting.

Launched in April 2006, the Ministry of Tourism’s Go East initiative aims to stimulate sustainable tourism development in the eastern districts of Grand Cayman to spread the economic benefits of tourism across a more expansive geographical and socio-economic sector.