More than 30,000 visitors passed through the new home of the Cayman Turtle Farm, Boatswain’s Beach, in December.
Managing Director Ken Hydes said the number is a testament to how well the newly enhanced tourist attraction park is being received by the public.
‘Christmas has been amazing for visitors,’ he said, adding that there has been a good mix of cruise and stay-over guests.
This past year has seen an increase in visitor numbers to the park of about two per cent on 2005, from 398,808 visitors to 404,558.
Also, sales have increased by about 35 per cent on the previous year, from US$4.2 million in 2005 to US$5.67 million in 2006.
‘The spending in the old Turtle Farm per customer has now doubled per visitor in the new expanded attraction,’ said Mr. Hydes.
It has gone from an average of $8.88 per head in January 2005 to $20.36 in December 2006.
‘This includes what they spend per head on tours, food and beverage and retail goods and turtle products,’ he said. ‘That’s a good indicator because it shows that people are willing to enjoy the expanded offerings.’
The increase in spending per head is primarily due to the increase in admission plus the addition of food and beverage spending.
The entire expanded attraction is operational now apart from the 1.3 million gallon saltwater snorkel lagoon and its adjoining predator tank.
This means that about 80 per cent of the entire operation is functioning.
Operational facilities include Breakers tidal lagoon, three restaurants, a free-flight bird aviary, an iguana habitat, historic Caymanian street with artisans, the Cayman Turtle Farm turtle tanks and turtle lagoon, the education centre, which houses the turtle hatchery, the Blue Hole nature trail, and gift shop.
It could be the end of January before the fish are added to the salt water lagoon, Mr. Hydes said. The conditioning of the water is still taking place.
Water was added to the lagoon in mid December and it takes at least a month for it to get conditioned along with setting up the filtration system and pumps.
It could be the end of January before the fish go in, he said. They are quarantined.
The acquiring of a discharge permit is another process that is ongoing and has to be granted by the Water Authority before the fish can be added to the lagoon.
New fish are sought for the park, including more sharks for the predator tanks. Six previously acquired sharks died because of the glitch in their mechanical life supports systems while in quarantine.
It will be the middle of February at the earliest before any of the newer fish can be added to the park’s interactive/display tanks, said Mr. Hydes.
Because the salt water lagoon and predator tank are not yet operational, the price is set at CI$28 for adults and CI$4 for children (aged two to 12).
Both visitors and residents have been instrumental in the development and support of the park, said Mr. Hydes.
Close to 90 per cent of visitors to the park are tourists.
Feedback on the new facility has been phenomenal, he said.
He described one lady who has been coming here to visit for 28 years as saying it is the best thing to ever happen to the Cayman Islands’ tourist product.
‘I can only imagine what the feedback will be like when the lagoon and predator tank are open,’ he said.
The recent open day, where residents were invited to view and enjoy the park for free, was a great success with attendees very pleased at what they saw, said Mr. Hydes.
But he admits that there are challenges with such a new development, such as getting the more enhanced tour out there in the cruise tourism market.
But with new tourist offerings coming on stream, such as the recently opened Margaritaville, he said it is comforting to him that they are holding their market share, noting that 20 per cent to 25 per cent of all tourists visit the facility.
‘Providing we continue to get visitors to the Cayman Islands and retain our market share, the future of the Turtle Farm and Boatswain’s Beach looks good,’ he said.
He noted that the staff has given its all to make a success of the expanded venture.
‘We have 102 staff and that will top 130, and all are giving their best.’
While 2006 was a very challenging year for Boatswain’s Beach, this year will be no different, he said. But everyone there is doing their best to make it a big success.