Tourism control

A study of Cayman Islands tourism completed five years ago found major concerns among residents about inappropriate or poor quality development, particularly along West Bay Road

For residents of the island’s West Bay district who attended a national tourism policy meeting last week that issue is more troubling than ever.

Brand new multi-story hotels and condo developments popping up along the main artery to West Bay, and the ensuing increased traffic, were a major topic of discussion at Thursday’s gathering held at John Cumber Primary School.

‘We still like to look at the beach sometimes,’ said Loxley Banks.

‘With three lanes, with a lot of high-rise condos and seemingly no regard for carrying capacity, it’s very difficult for visitors to cross West Bay Rd…day or night,’ Mario Ebanks said. ‘It’s becoming a death-trap.’

Mr. Ebanks also said residents are concerned about what they perceive as shrinking access to public beaches.

‘We see cruise ship visitors crowding out all of the public open spaces during the week and now weekends as well. It affects the residents and stay-over tourists and is a source of frustration.’

Residents also raised concerns about areas where beach access roads were becoming narrow or even disappearing entirely because of over-development.

Tourism consultant Chris Evans didn’t exactly tell those at the West Bay meeting what they wanted to hear about the looming mid-rise buildings along Seven-Mile Beach.

‘Not much can be done about the commitments along West Bay Road We need to try and manage the issue in other parts of the country,’ Mr. Evans said.

Lessening or diverting cruise ship traffic to other parts of Grand Cayman has been a discussion point among island tourism planners for years, and Mr. Evans said the islands may eventually be forced to do that.

‘If you want to keep increasing your cruise passengers, that is something you’d have to consider,’ he said. ‘A West Bay cruise ship port was proposed about four years ago, but now is probably redundant.’

However, most West Bay residents who attended the meeting said they were opposed to any increase in cruise shippers. Some suggested that the Department of Tourism put a limit of four ships a day at George Town harbour.

Indeed, Mr. Evans noted that even cruise lines themselves were becoming concerned about the quality of the experience passengers have in ports with six or seven ships packed in on one day.

Residents like Peter Milburn, who owns a dive shop, were also concerned about environmental deterioration being caused by so many people in the water.

‘The environment is not in the pristine condition that it was 20, 30 years ago…if we don’t have a healthy environment…we can just say goodbye,’ Mr. Milburn said.

He urged DoT to push for a reduction of North Sound tour boat passengers who generally come off the cruise ships, get on boats in SafeHaven harbour, and head to the Sandbar or Stingray City.

‘The people that run the North Sound trips are being ripped off,’ Mr. Milburn said. ‘This is one of the reasons why we have such total uncontrolled numbers at the Sandbar. If we had a boat going out there with 100 people at $50 a head, as opposed to 200 people at $25 a head we’d be much better off.’

‘The cruise ships cannot come to the Cayman Islands and dictate to us what they want to have.’

The West Bay meeting was by far the best-attended of any national tourism policy meetings hosted in Grand Cayman last week, with about 40 people showing up.

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