The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism’s European office in the UK has been closely monitoring the media coverage and public reaction to the recent tourist shootings in Antigua.
But they have left it in the hands of Caribbean tour operators and tourism officials to make media responses on behalf of the region as a whole so no one Caribbean country is associated with the negative press, said Regional Manager Europe with the CI Department of Tourism Don McDougall.
British honeymooners Ben and Catherine Mullany were shot in their hotel room in Antigua last month. Mrs. Mullany died instantly while her husband died a week later from his injuries.
The British press has focused heavily on the incident, some questioning the safety of the Caribbean region.
Mr. McDougall agreed that certain media reporting has been irresponsible in making sweeping statements about the region rather than facts about specific islands.
He said that his office has been in close consultation with the specialist Caribbean tour operators and the UK offices of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and the Caribbean Hotel Association on the matter.
‘Our carefully considered decision has been to leave the media response to both the CTO and the specialist tour operators in that they will respond on behalf of the region as a whole so as not to associate any one specific Caribbean country with the negative coverage.’
He explained, ‘If the Cayman Islands respond to the media, then the Cayman Islands will risk being printed in association with the negative story and by default, the reader is likely to link the two. Whereas no specific comment from Cayman, then no negative link made.’
One example of press coverage resulting from this strategy appeared in the Saturday 2 August Daily Telegraph‘s travel section. The intro read, ‘Caribbean tour operators and tourism officials this week accused the British media of acting irresponsibly in the wake of the murder of a honeymooner in Antigua.’
The article goes on to quote Paul Cleary, managing director of Caribtours, which for 30 years has been sending British holidaymakers to the region. He said reports that the Caribbean was unsafe for visitors were wide of the mark.
‘Many tour operators, like us, were simply not aware of any problems with crime for good reason – it never happens in tourist areas, except for very minor petty incidents. This tragic murder is a one-off.’
Mr. McDougall said that the tragic crime and the resultant coverage will deter a few people from going to the Caribbean – those who are not inclined to research their destination before they book it.
‘The good news for the Cayman Islands is that those who do research their intended destination prior to making their decision will see that the Cayman Islands are warm and friendly islands with relatively low crime. Indeed we deliberately position the opening remarks on all of our marketing communications in this way.
‘We also believe that honeymooners are more likely to research their destination given the greater perceived importance of this to any other holiday.’
Over the past few years the Cayman Islands has made a bigger push to grow its UK and European market and has made strides in doing so.
Last year was a record year for the European market in the Cayman Islands. The total European air visitor count for last year was 20,355, the best for six years. From the UK and Ireland perspective, visitors went up by 18.9 per cent over 2006.
For the 2008 year to date arrivals from the UK and Ireland are up by 6.2 per cent over the same period last year.