Thank God for optimists

Letters to the editor with respect to government’s performance, policies, programmes, initiatives or projects usually fall into one of five categories:

(1) Constructive Criticism;

(2) Supportive;

(3) Misunderstanding;

(4) Mischief; and

(5) Political posturing.

I encourage the first two categories; I issue a correcting statement with respect to the third category if it is a critical issue and the public interest requires a clarification; I ignore mischief unless I believe that it could potentially do harm to our country; and I respond to political posturing at my discretion and at the appropriate time.

I believe that Mr. Ron Kipp’s letter, which appeared in the Caymanian Compass recently and which was titled ‘Stats don’t lie’ is properly placed in the ‘Mischief’ category.

For Mr. Kipp and his friends’ information, I reproduce below my verbatim statement on the tourism statistics for 2006.

‘Despite major challenges faced by the sector following Hurricane Ivan, the year- end statistics confirm that 2006 was a strong year for tourism in the Cayman Islands. Overall, air arrivals experienced a robust increase of some 59.3 per cent in comparison to 2005. Cruise arrivals were up 7.3 per cent in 2006 versus the prior year.

Air arrivals:

A more detailed analysis of air arrivals in 2006 shows that we ended the year strongly with the month of December 2006 posting an increase of 26.8 per cent in comparison to the same month last year. Month over month increases were evident throughout the entire year, the most significant increases reported in the early part of 2006.

Against the background that 2005 was the Cayman Islands’ recovery year after Hurricane Ivan, it is important to examine visitor growth in tandem with the level of recovery throughout the period.

Air arrivals in 2006 compare favourably to 2004 as well (which saw a steady increase in air traffic prior to Hurricane Ivan in September 2004) as 2006 arrivals show a modest increase of approximately 3 per cent. More specifically, a total of 259,929 guests were reported January through December 2004 compared to 267,257 guests in the same period in 2006, an increase 9,328 visitors. In light of the government and private sectors aim to reach pre-Ivan visitor levels, the present number of 267,257 air arrivals clearly indicates notable progress.

Overall, in 2006 significant increases were achieved in all of our key source markets which are the USA, Europe and Canada when compared to 2005. The most significant increases were posted in the Northeast region within the US which showed an increase of 94.6 per cent in comparison to 2005. Overall the entire United States posted strong growth of 82.9 per cent for the year ending December 2006. Air arrivals from Europe increased by 31.5 percent and Canada increased by 42.3 per cent.

Cruise arrivals:

The cruise industry for the most part, experienced fluctuating growth numbers for each month throughout 2006, ending the year with the highest overall number ever recorded. The largest influx of cruise passengers to dock in the Cayman Islands were reported in the months of January, March and December 2006 where the 200,000 mark was surpassed in each instance.

Year over year figures, however, have been consistent. In fact, cruise passenger numbers approached 1.7 million in 2004, 1.8 million in 2005 and were just over 1.9 million at year end 2006. This marks a significant milestone for the cruise sector as the arrival figures for 2006 have officially exceeded the totals in 2003 of 1.8M, which demonstrates this sector has fully recovered from the losses experienced post Hurricane Ivan.’

No one has said that we are not still facing challenges in our tourism industry; this is the case for the entire region as we tackle unprecedented external threats and internal challenges with trying to correct decades of neglecting our tourism product.

No one is ignoring the historical trend with air arrivals since the 1990s but our statistics today are not disputed as they were when Mr. Kipp was a key stakeholder in tourism in Cayman. No matter how he attempts to spin it for his friends, a 59.3 per cent increase in air arrivals in 2006 compared to 2005 is very significant and demonstrates that the sector is close to full recovery from Hurricane Ivan.

Given Mr. Kipp’s propensity to be pessimistic, the Government was clearly right when it did not appoint him as Director of Tourism when he applied several years ago and when it did not entertain his solicitations a second time for the post following the May 2005 General Elections.

I say thank you to the hard working men and women in our tourism industry who have all made positive contributions. From the Ministry and Department of Tourism staff; to the staff of our hotels, condos and restaurants; to the rent-a-car companies staff and watersports operators and everyone else who are connected either directly or indirectly with tourism. The country is truly grateful for your efforts.

I say to each of you that countries are not built by pessimists but rather by visionary optimists and I thank God that we have more of the latter in this country than the former.

Charles E. Clifford – Minister of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce

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