Boatswain’s Beach losses mount

The Cayman Islands government will be forced to cover nearly $8.6 million in operating losses for the struggling Boatswain’s Beach facility in West Bay during the current budget year.

Boatswain’s Beach Chief Operating Officer Joey Ebanks said last week that the facility’s current staff and operating costs likely can’t be reduced further unless a decision is made to eliminate some of its current attractions.

‘We can’t cut anymore, we need to grow the revenues,’ Mr. Ebanks said.

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford left open the possibility that further cutbacks may be needed, although he was not specific about where those might occur.

‘There’s going to have to be some change in the scope of business,’ Mr. Clifford said. ‘The salt water lagoon, for example, that’s a significant expense.’

In any case, Mr. Clifford said Boatswain’s would not get away from its core mission of raising sea turtles.

Mr. Ebanks said staff levels have come down from a high of 117 people to about 102 people. He also noted operating losses in the spring months of 2008 were much less than Boatswain’s Beach has seen previously.

The Caymanian Compass reported late last year that Boatswain’s was losing approximately $500,000 a month. Mr. Ebanks said the total operating loss in April was $134,000.

Figures presented to the Legislative Assembly’s finance committee revealed that the facility had sustained an operating loss of more than $20 million over the last three years. That operating loss does not include loans taken out to keep the facility afloat.

In an interview with the Compass, Mr. Ebanks stressed the importance of Boatswain’s Beach securing viable contracts with cruise ships, which are responsible for roughly 90 per cent of the tours at the attraction.

He also noted an advertising campaign was under way to encourage local residents to visit Boatswain’s during the upcoming slower off-peak months; a campaign that includes the introduction of a magazine, which was distributed last week.

Boatswain’s Beach operational losses have shot up in the past five years. According to what was presented in finance committee, the facility’s operating loss in the 2004 budget was $557,000.

Mr. Ebanks said the former Cayman Turtle Farm’s operation has grown exponentially since then, but its revenues haven’t kept pace.

‘The business…went from 35 employees to 117 employees,’ he said. ‘It grew drastically over that time.’

He noted that since 2004, several new attractions including a salt water and fresh water lagoon, a predator tank, an aviary and the historic Cayman Street all were introduced to give visitors a taste of the local lifestyle.

Many of those attractions, like the salt water lagoon and aviary require specialised staff as well as additional employees to operate.

Mr. Clifford said troubles experienced by the expanded Boatswain’s Beach were in part due to an inaccurate business plan, which was drafted by the previous government. Mr. Clifford said operating revenues were overestimated and contracts with cruise ships were not in place before the project moved ahead.

Previous Leader of Government Business and current Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said he completely disagreed with Mr. Clifford’s assessment of the business plan, and noted the current government did not go through with plans to place a cruise ship dock in West Bay.

‘Had the change not been made, it would have been a better situation to have the dock in West Bay,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘As far as I’m concerned, that’s one of the reasons why it has not worked out as we hoped.’

Mr. Clifford said cruise ship companies did not want the West Bay dock, and that the feasibility plan for Boatswain’s Beach made no reference to a dock in West Bay.