Grand Cayman gets bad with the good

Grand Cayman, as a tourist destination, has been dealt out the good as well as the bad in the foreign press recently.

From popular travel website Fodors.com to The Florida Sportsman to the Herald Magazine in Scotland the recent reports are nothing less than charming. But a National Geographic Traveler rating of how islands are prone to tourism overkill does not rate Grand Cayman well at all. ‘Grand Cayman is worthwhile only as a gateway to Cayman Brac or Little Cayman. The two smaller islands are delightful. Grand Cayman might as well be South Florida,’ it says.

The piece in the Herald Magazine, part of the Herald newspaper distributed across Scotland, with a circulation of 69,346, comes as a result of journalist Isobel Palmer joining the Cayman Classic group press trip in May.

Headlined ‘Priceless in Paradise’, the journalist hones in on the heritage and culture of the islands. Her article focuses on chef and bakery owner Bergman Ebanks, who gave a demonstration on how to cook conch stew alongside the National Trust’s Denise Bodden.

Ms Palmer noted how senior islanders offer a rich tourism resource. ‘I meet several long-time residents on this trip and their old-fashioned courtesy and eagerness to explain island crafts like basket-making, plus charming predilection for large hats and flowery dresses, is a delight.’

In fact, she ends the article stating, ‘There are more characters like Bergman in the Cayman Islands and it’s good to know that the tourism officials understand the need to preserve them as much as their coral reefs.’

The conch stew is also as much of a hit for Ms Palmer as its cook Mr. Bergman. ‘It’s rib-lining, heart-warming comfort food and so unusual that I can still recall the exact flavour. There’s fish and coconut and I’d happily have it for lunch right now.’

The Department of Tourism has stated that the equivalent advertising value of this piece would be $20,643.

But on a not so good note, National Geographic Traveler rated Grand Cayman very poorly in a recent rating of island destinations worldwide.

Featured in the November/December 2007 edition and online at www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler, 522 experts on sustainable tourism and destination stewardship voted on how islands are faring with regard to tourism overkill.

Grand Cayman is given a score of 47 out of a possible 100. In its ‘Guide to the scores’ this puts the island in the ‘in serious trouble’ bracket.

Quoted phrases from the experts’ remarks suggest the thinking behind the scores, the article said.

For Grand Cayman, some of the remarks included, ‘The ratio of tourist arrivals to residents is greater in the Cayman Islands than any other Caribbean destination. Grand Cayman feels more American than Caribbean.

‘Cruise ships will be more obvious than before with the planned construction of a new dock accommodating four vessels at a time. The dock will negatively affect the island’s star attraction – diving – much the way the new pier did on Cozumel.’

The comments continue, ‘Grand Cayman is just starting to take stewardship seriously. Of note: sudden concern about human impacts at Stingray City and the major dive sites.’

National Geographic Traveler has an adult readership of 5.3 million.

Highest scoring on the list, with 87 (classified as ‘authentic, unspoiled and likely to remain so’) was the Faroe Islands, Denmark, while lowest scoring with 37 points, a full 10 points lower than Grand Cayman, was St. Thomas, USVI (also classified as ‘in serious trouble’).

The article does note that all the islands, even the lowest scoring, have great experiences to discover. ‘To protect them, restore them, we must value them as much as resort developers and cruise companies do. Even more,’ it said.

The article notes that as micro-worlds, islands are more vulnerable to population pressure, climate change, storm damage, invasive species and now, tourism overkill.

Meanwhile, visiting journalist Bob Burgess wrote favourably about underwater life in both Grand Cayman and Little Cayman in Florida Sportsman, a monthly publication with a circulation of 116,400 and FloridaSportsman.com. The article chronicles the resurgence of Cayman’s coral reefs and the plentiful scuba diving offerings in the Cayman Islands post Hurricane Ivan. Highlighted in the article are Orde Verde, Stingray City, Spanish Bay and Bloody Bay Wall. He also touts Ocean Frontiers, Red Sail Sports, Pirate’s Point and the Reef Resort.

‘Stingray City, with its playful rays, is still a great shallow water experience, and Tarpon Alley still makes you think you are entering a wall of mirrors when you come up from 80 feet between schools of resting tarpon. And the vertical beauty of North Wall’s drop into the abyssal indigo of extreme depth will never change,’ he said.

Visiting Journalist Jordan Simon’s article posted on Fodors.com does a profile of Blue’s Chef Eric Ripert in which the famous chef mentions Calico Jack’s as the best place to take friends for a fun night out, Calypso Grill for its island décor and great seafood and Stingray City as ‘magical’.

Fodors.com receives 862,810 visitors per month.

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