Tourism Minister Charles Clifford fired back last week at three opposition party members who launched blistering criticisms of Cayman’s tourism improvement policies.
Mr. Clifford said both air arrival and cruise ship numbers showed a definite upswing in the first three months of this year, contrary to the situation Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush and West Bay MLA’s Rolston Anglin and Cline Glidden Jr. described.
‘They’re trying to create a picture that tourism is not doing well,’ Mr. Clifford said.
As previously reported in the Caymanian Compass (1 May, Air arrivals show steady growth), Mr. Clifford pointed out that air passenger arrivals have increased over the two and a half years since Hurricane Ivan took its disastrous toll on the country.
In the first three months of this year, air arrivals were up substantially (13 per cent) over the same three months of 2006. The figures for January and March even began to approach the same levels seen in the first three months of 2004 before Ivan struck.
Cruise ship tourist arrivals hit their highest level ever in March 2007 with 253,348 people landing off Cayman’s shores. In the first three months of this year, more than 680,000 people came here on the cruise lines.
‘We have seen consistent increases every month,’ Mr. Clifford said. ‘We are approaching a full recovery.’
Mr. Bush said island tourism was coming back after Ivan partly because of projects approved and started by his party, the UDP, which was ousted in the country’s May 2005 elections.
‘Without the much criticised cruise ship facilities, the Boatswain’s Beach facilities, the Ritz-Carlton, the Westin, Camana Bay and other developments….where would our tourist industry be today?’ Mr. Bush said during his contribution to the budget debate.
‘What are the plans of the PPM (People’s Progressive Movement, the ruling party) to meet the challenges of the 21st Century?’
Mr. Clifford noted several areas where his ministry had made significant developments to improve and expand tourism recently.
He touted the National Football League’s Quarterback Challenge, which will begin filming here this month, and which has made a three-year commitment to host the event in Cayman. The event will be broadcast internationally.
‘If we were to try and buy that type of TV time or exposure, we simply couldn’t afford it,’ he said.
Mr. Clifford also lauded recent efforts to bring a professional boxing event to Cayman each year.
Cayman will host the Sustainable Tourism Conference this month, with some 150 delegates expected to attend.
The Tourism Ministry is also helping implement a customer service excellence programme and an apprenticeship training programme for those who want to learn the trade. Mr. Clifford said he wants to make tourism the ‘industry of choice’ for Caymanians.
Mr. Clifford did not directly address claims by Mr. Anglin that Cayman should reconsider its tourism focus. The West Bay MLA had previously said the island’s plan to turn itself into a high-end tourist destination was a fallacy, until more efforts were made to clean up hurricane damage and other eyesores.
Cayman Islands Tourism Association President Karie Bergstrom said she was baffled by Mr. Anglin’s comments and said that the association believed both cruise ship and stay-over tourism were needed to support the island’s economy.