Tourists back on Little Cayman

Little Cayman has rebounded well with tourists back enjoying her beauty and tranquillity.

Paloma passed over Little Cayman on the evening of 8 November as a Category 4 hurricane, packing 140 mph sustained winds, but the island escaped relatively unscathed and the main issue for resorts and residents has been the restoration of power.

Mary and Vic Smith

Visitors Mary and Vic Smith relaxing poolside at the Southern Cross Club. Photo: Cliodhna Doherty

Cayman Brac was directly impacted by the storm and sustained significant damage.

On Little Cayman power has been restored to 90 per cent of residents on the island and to tourist properties.

The majority of tourist accommodations have been back up and running for a week or two and doing very well with bookings.

It seems that Hurricane Gustav, which hit in August, actually caused more damage to resorts, than Paloma did.

In fact the only real sign of Paloma’s fury are the many downed power lines littering the roadsides of the smallest of the three Cayman Islands.

Underneath the water the reefs were untouched, leaving pristine diving conditions for visitors, say hotel managers.

Cate Ferreira, who manages popular dive resort Southern Cross Club with her husband Jim, explained that the south coast, where most of the main tourist properties are located, escaped relatively well.

Storm surge was not an issue, and some roof damage along with cosmetic damage was the main issue for some resorts and homes.

And the visitors who were this week relaxing on Little Cayman, did not see much in the way of reminders that there had ever been storms there this past hurricane season.

Guests of Southern Cross Club, Mary and Vic Smith of Chicago, arrived on Little Cayman just a week after the resort had reopened after Paloma.

‘We had known about the storm but didn’t really think anything of it,’ said Mary. ‘You wouldn’t know anything about it except for the odd shingle in the water and the downed power lines,’ she said.

In fact, she chipped in her little piece of community service to the island by playing the piano at Sunday Church, which had no electricity to power the organ.

‘We really like it. We’ll definitely come back,’ she said.

The Southern Cross Club, as of last Monday, was fully booked, said Ms Ferreira.

It reopened on 20 November, the first resort on the island to reopen following the storm. And although it lost a lot of bookings as a result of the storm, some are rescheduling to come again.

‘When we first reopened it was a little slow, because some of the people that were supposed to come that week ended up cancelling but since we got past that we’ve been full,’ she said.

The resort lost its boat docks in Gustav and had just replaced them when Paloma swept through. But luckily they only suffered minor damage, with staff having taken the planks off them prior to the storm.

At the resort there is a bit of a lull in bookings for January, which is normal, Ms Ferreira said. ‘In general also, people are booking later and later, but we’re still filling. But part of that is to do with the economy,’ she said.

At the Little Cayman Beach Resort it had started a renovation on its 40 rooms from 22 August, but then it had a visit from Gustav a week later, which interrupted things.

‘So we went from renovations to hurricane prep to hurricane to hurricane cleanup and restoration because we had damage from Gustav on the dock and so forth, back to renovations, and we managed to get 16 of our newly renovated rooms ready for September 26,’ said General Manager Jason Belport.

Then Paloma hit a couple of weeks later and it reopened after that on 22 November.

By 6 December it will have 24 newly renovated rooms available, with 36 available by 20 December and should have all 40 finished by mid January, said Mr. Belport, who is also property manager for Conch Club Condominiums and The Club.

He explained that the storm did not affect them too much at LCBR because they were planning to take out half of their inventory of rooms anyway, from 22 August to 22 November for renovations. ‘So we were already expecting to operate at a lower occupancy for those three months,’ he said.

Their 16 available units were full last week and the 24 units that are available this weekend are fully booked.

People are starting to book for high season now and even into spring through to summer. ‘Our occupancy levels look really, really good as a baseline right now,’ he said.

Conch Club Condominiums and The Club are being repaired from Gustav damage. Conch Club Condominiums is being reopened this week with six out of nine units immediately available.

The Club should be ready by 15 December.

From Paloma, Mr. Belport reported minor roof damage at LCBR, tennis court damage and some damage to fencing.

‘Gustav caused more damage here than Paloma did, to the actual resort itself, such as to our dock, but in terms of the actual infrastructure Paloma was just more damaging because of all or the poles that went down,’ he said.

Referring to Paloma’s lack of storm surge on the island, he said, ‘I’ve been on islands for 12 years and I’ve never seen a Category 3 or 4 storm with absolutely no storm surge whatsoever. It was just like high tide, that’s all it was.’

Boats and dock emerged fine.

Mr. Belport did refer to the global economic crisis as a concern for tourism business but added that with its high rate of repeat guests he believed they would still come.

Unlike a couple of other resorts, LCBR has working telephone land lines, as does Southern Cross club.

At Paradise Villas where there are 12 units, the most damage was sustained through Gustav, which caused the ceilings of most of the villas to fall down. Having been renovated, the final few villas are now going back into operation.

The end of August it had a planned closure anyway for slow season and reopened on 30 October only to be greeted by Paloma a week later, explained Manager Marc Pothier.

Saturday, 22 November, was when its first guests came in following Paloma.

Looking on the bright side of things, Mr. Pothier said that his property got an unscheduled renovation because of Gustav and bookings are coming in, both from repeat business and from being transferred from Cayman Brac.

‘While we don’t like to take bookings from the Brac, at least it keeps those visitors in the Cayman Islands,’ he said.

The resort has no land lines, which he said is a challenge, but it is getting around the problem by using cell phones and using internet at the Southern Cross Club.

At Pirates Point Resort staff member Michelle Davis reports that its 10 guest rooms are full, having reopened the resort on 25 November. ‘We’ve been full since then,’ she said.

It is also booking well in January and getting lots of interest from visitors.

The damage sustained in Paloma has been repaired and included some shingles off the roof and a couple of windows damaged on oceanfront rooms, along with losing lots of trees. In Gustav the roof was ripped off their clubhouse, which has since been replaced.

The only thing the resort lacks is telephone land lines. They are using cell phones instead. Otherwise there is no sign that there had been a storm. ‘Our guests are coming in and not seeing anything. They see the power lines down, but that’s the extent of the damage they’re seeing,’ she said.

While most residents on the islands now have power, Ms Ferreira explains that transformers, which are on order from the US, are needed to get the north side and east end of the island powered up. But the homes without power are mostly those that are not lived in year-round.

It was the north side and north eastern side of Little Cayman that received the strongest blow from the hurricane and a couple of homes had their roofs partially ripped off

‘I think that’s a reason why the winds weren’t as bad for us here as they were on the Brac, is that a lot of the homes on the north side, which got the brunt of it, are newer, larger upmarket homes,’ she explained.

And so, having emerged relatively unscathed, Little Cayman has dusted itself off from hurricane season just in time for high season and the many tourists who will bask in her unspoiled beauty.