Almost a year on from closing, Divi Tiara Resort still stands closed up and unsold, with the parent company citing a lack of direct airlift from the US as a major problem.
Mark Steward, vice president of sales and marketing with parent Company Divi Resorts said they have looked at putting more money into the Cayman Brac resort and reopening, but because of a lack of direct airlift between the US and the Brac, they have not done it.
‘We continue to evaluate where we are with Divi Tiara,’ he said. ‘But we keep coming back to the fact that monetarily it’s going to be very difficult to make money there with the airlift issue’.
Former Divi Tiara dive shop employee Craig Burhart is renting the dive shop on the Tiara property and running Indepth Watersports from there. ‘Craig is doing a good job of maintaining the property,’ Mr. Steward said. ‘He’s keeping the beach there clean and the property is generally in good shape.’
The price on Divi Tiara stands between US$9 and $11 million.
Divi Tiara Resort was one of two hotels on Cayman Brac when it closed in September with the loss of 37 jobs. Economic reasons were cited for closure of the 51-room resort, including problems with airlift.
Mr. Steward said that all those who have been interested in buying the resort have found airlift just as difficult an issue.
Although Cayman Airways has jet service from Grand Cayman to Cayman Brac Thursday through Sunday, it is direct air service that is needed from the US, said Mr. Steward. Cayman Airways also services the island a number of times a day from Grand Cayman with its Express service, but travelling aboard the small twin otter planes is not something guests want to do, he said.
Sister Islands MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly said direct airlift from the US is absolutely essential for Brac tourism.
The main reason behind Cayman Airways was to get tourists here and it has done this to a large extent for Grand Cayman, she said. However, she said it is now time to shift focus to Cayman Brac where, with a steady schedule of flights directly from the US, and good solid marketing, it could be a success.
Mr. Steward said Tiara is not something they have forgotten about.
‘We’re not dead. We’re continuing to try and see what options there are,’ he said. ‘On a daily basis we think of Tiara and what we can do with it.’
Mr. Steward also said that Divi Resorts had approached American Airlines for an AA Eagle 50-seater to come into the Brac twice a week from the US, but they were turned down.
A spokesman at AA, which has serviced Grand Cayman for over 15 years, said they are always looking for new opportunities to serve new destinations, as the markets require. ‘Nevertheless, we might not be able to cover all the markets at the time,’ said a statement.
Mr. Steward said, ‘What we need is a nice sized plane, and by nice sized I mean a 737, to fly into Cayman Brac and back to Miami three times a week,’ adding that this should be a non-stop flight. ‘You do that, then you open up a huge ability for this property and for other condos and properties to develop,’ he said.
Mr. Steward added, ‘We need three times a week because Americans take short trips not week-long ones. Two times could work if it were a Saturday and Wednesday.’
But VP Commercial with Cayman Airways, John Wrightington said the idea isn’t feasible.
‘Put the properties of Cayman Brac together and you don’t have enough room stock capacity to substantiate a 737 airplane’.
He said he could see that they could fill 40 to 50 seats on a 737 (which has about 120 seats) on a Cayman Brac to Miami leg of a flight in the peak season, when the plane would need to be nearly full on such a short flight to be cost efficient.
Mr. Wrightington said that to keep such a route sustainable an airplane the right size would be needed to fly from Miami or Tampa to the Brac.
A 50-seat turbo prop, which can get from Grand Cayman to Miami in an hour and a half, could be the answer. Or a 50-seat or 70-seat jet could work also, he said.
He also noted that the airline needs to increase the amount of capacity for the twin otter flights from Grand Cayman to Cayman Brac.
New pilots will need to be recruited and it is difficult to get pilots for twin otter planes, he said.
It’s also difficult to recruit crews to the Cayman Islands as they perceive it as being expensive, said Mr. Wrightington.
The airline’s goal is to get to eight or nine frequencies a day by November, if new pilots are acquired. Once they get the schedule proposal approved they will begin the recruitment drive, he said.
Meanwhile, at Divi Tiara’s timeshares the renovations are now completed on all 12 units. The timeshare members are having their meals and enjoying the pool facilities at the Brac Reef Beach Resort, said Mr. Steward.