Today’s Editorial February 27: Air arrival figures concerning

The tourism statistics for January are in and the news is not great.

Although the air arrival figure is higher than those from last two Januarys, it is still down from all other Januarys this decade. That includes the January right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, a time when the tourism industry here struggled.

The fact that air arrival numbers were down in January 2005 and January 2006 should not be surprising because Grand Cayman was still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.

Except for a couple of notable exceptions like the Hyatt Regency, Grand Cayman’s tourism product has recovered from Hurricane Ivan. However, it continues to produce figures considerably lower than those from before the storm.

In some ways, it can be argued that Cayman’s tourism product has even improved since Ivan with the completion of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and the Boatswain’s Beach attraction.

Yet fewer people are coming to the Cayman Islands by air.

Just as concerning is the fact that apartments – as opposed to hotel rooms – in the short-term rental market reported an estimated occupancy rate of 41 per cent, the lowest rate in 10 years.

Finding the reasons why the stay-over numbers remain lower than before Hurricane Ivan is something the Government is undoubtedly trying to determine. But perhaps they only need to look at the corresponding cruise passenger figures for the month of January to have some insight into the state of stay-over tourism.

In January, there were 225,948 cruise arrivals, more than double the 109,765 there were in January 2001. January’s cruise arrivals represented the fourth most during one month ever in the Cayman Islands, trailing only the March figures for the past three years.

When 2007 is over, it is quite likely that more than two million cruise passengers will have visited our shores this year.

Most residents know that when there are four or more cruise ships in town, it has an effect on us. We grumble about the traffic, leave a little earlier, try to stay out of town if we can, and accept a declining quality of life.

Stay-over tourists, however, don’t have to accept anything that takes away from the quality of their vacation experience. If tourists come here and do not have an enjoyable time because of crowds in town, crowds at Stingray City and traffic tie-ups, they just go somewhere else for their next vacation.

For years and years, the return visitor was a key to Cayman’s stay-over tourism. Perhaps now, with record numbers of cruise passengers dampening their vacation experience, the return stay-over visitors have decided to go elsewhere.