Concerns about management of cruise ship passengers, the seeming disconnect between the push for high-end tourism while attracting low-spending cruise shippers and the perceived over development of the Seven Mile Beach corridor were among many issues raised by the public at George Town’s National Tourism Management Policy meeting.
Around 13 stakeholders attended Wednesday evening’s consultation at Mary Miller Memorial Hall.
Chaired by Director of Tourism Pilar Bush and NTMP consultant Chris Evans, the meeting opened with an overview and update of the outgoing 2002-07 management plan. Apologies were submitted on behalf the Minister of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce, Charles Clifford, who was sick.
A report was given on the status of the 70 action items, which had arisen from a series of stakeholder consultations.
Both Ms Bush and Mr. Evans spoke about strategies for developing the future direction of the next five year plan.
‘Our goal is to have broad input as tourism can be a polarizing subject, which affects all our lives,’ Ms Bush said.
Mr. Evans noted that since the policy’s initial airing a lot had happened affecting tourism in Cayman but that the issues had essentially remained the same.
‘This is a review and unless we get a strong message from the consultation exercise to the contrary much of the policy still stands.
‘The whole process needs more joined up thinking by the local community and the public and private sectors,’ Mr. Evans said.
Four key areas identified, during extensive consultations, as being critical to the future development of local tourism included:
? The need to address inappropriate/poor quality development.
? Ensuring deeper environmental professional/management of land and sea because visitors came for the quality of the environment.
? Better co-ordinating cruise passenger growth. The increasing numbers, over the last four years, highlighted the critical importance of better managing visitors, for them and those living here, to get a better quality experience, and
? Perceived difficulties in the human resource aspect of local tourism – such issues covered attracting more Caymanians into tourism jobs, skills shortages, training and immigration.
Feedback from earlier consultation strongly suggested that the environmental objective was seen as the most critical.
This was followed by the need to control cruise ship numbers, the need to avert over development and lastly the recruitment of Caymanians into the tourism sector.
A question and answer session followed.
One participant asked what had changed about the panelists’ earlier assumptions.
Ms Bush said the present government had decided to adopt a holistic view of the tourism industry rather than continue with viewing tourism as two distinct sectors.
George Town MLA Lucille Seymour asked for the beautification of the well-traveled route down Shedden Road to Fosters at the Airport.
She also asked why Cayman was not achieving the annual recommended target of 400,000 stay-over visitors. The group was told there were many complex reasons for why that target had not been met including: 9/11, the earlier resistance to change by some in the marketplace and Hurricane Ivan.
Aline Wood asked what the regeneration of George Town actually meant.
The panelists said George Town was the entry point for cruise visitors. Regeneration in the NTMP spoke to the need to improve the quality of the downtown environment including the upgrading of paving, landscaping, signage and lighting.
Other aspects of regeneration being considered involved making the most of the waterfront with its dramatic coastline. Mr. Evans said other destinations made greater use of the waterfront for visitors and residents to linger and enjoy. Traffic, transport and safety issues also played into this.
South Sounder Chasteen Bodden said she was disappointed at the obstructed view of the waterfront.
TV presenter and George Town merchant, Charles Glidden said destinations seemed to follow a pattern of discovery, development, peak and decline. He asked whether Cayman was not starting to decline and if so what could be done about it.
Mr. Evans said data showed this might be the case but reiterated the situation was retrievable.
Ms Wood was told there was no immediate, short term answer to what was being done to prevent cruise visitor congestion.
Kevin Doyle of Hard Rock Café asked why more wasn’t being done to keep cruise ships here longer.
The panelists said there was no room for flexibility given current cruise ship scheduling. However, the group was told that George Town Harbour berthing proposals might address that issue as well as allow for speedier disembarkation and embarkation.
Guest house owner Carol Eldermire asked what had been done to promote guest houses offering the Caymanian experience. In her opinion the diversity of accommodation had not been properly marketed.
Ms Bush said one of the ways her department promoted such businesses was to talk about the range of accommodation in George Town. This was all part of her department’s ongoing attempts to break the myth that Cayman only offered one type of vacation experience.
All bed and breakfast facilities were included in the DoT website, Internet-based marketing and travel planners, she advised.
Another attendee suggested that ex pats in tourism be given guidelines on Cayman history and culture to give better service. The panelists agreed and pointed out the DoT’s current service standards initiatives, which included such information for employers.
Realtor Sheena Conolly suggested that things were not as bleak as the consultant suggested. She noted, however, that few outside finance circles knew much about Cayman. Mrs. Conolly also queried the depth and validity of the DoT’s marketing projections.