Some key players in the tourism industry are concerned about the lack of basic infrastructure at the Spotts cruise dock, believing it is damaging to the destination’s image amongst cruise tourists.
Spotts Landing in Savannah is used on days when seas are too rough for tendering ships in George Town.
‘It’s a problem that needs to be fixed. Year after year nothing gets done about it,’ said President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Stephen Broadbelt.
And although the dock may only be used for a handful of days out of the year, it is still being experienced by thousands of cruise passengers, he noted.
‘It’s embarrassing for us to think we’re the cream of the Caribbean as a tourist destination when these visitors get treated like the poor stepchild,’ he said.
‘Passengers are dropped off in the middle of nowhere. There’s no shade, no signage and around 101 buses. It’s mayhem,’ he said.
The Ministry of Tourism has said that The Port Authority does intend to make general improvements on site at the Spotts dock.
‘Future plans call for improving landscaping, shading, seating and staging for easier access to public transportation,’ a statement from the Ministry noted. However, no timeline was given.
Mr. Robert Hamaty, president of Tortuga Rum Company and one of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism said, ‘At present it’s a shock treatment to arriving passengers. They properly feel the captain made a serious navigational error and this can not be Grand Cayman.’
Another of ACT’s founding members, Brynley Davies of The Image Group, said that in the competitive world of cruise tourism, where many ports are upgrading their facilities, Cayman is conspicuous by a failure to provide even the basics of proper ground transportation, communications, retail and convenience facilities.
‘This has a direct negative impact on how we are viewed by cruise tourists and cruise lines,’ he said.
Mr. Hamaty noted that another problem at Spotts is that taxi fares into town become an issue for those not booked on tours and because of this many passengers stay onboard the ship.
Mr. Broadbelt said he has even seen passengers walking toward George Town. ‘They don’t know how far it is, they haven’t been here before,’ he said.
Lack of adequate shade is another issue.
Mr. Broadbelt said, ‘Getting back on the ship there’s a line about 1,000 yards long with only a few scrawny casuarinas trees giving very little shade.
‘The experience is miserable and they probably wish they’d never got off the ship,’ he said, saying that every other cruise port in the Caribbean has better infrastructure than the Cayman Islands.
‘I know the Government is working on berthing facilities for George Town, but Spotts is something that could be fixed quite quickly and would be money well spent,’ he said.
Mr. Broadbelt suggested that some shade structures, signange, and maps letting visitors know where they are, would help make them feel more welcome.
He said the cruise visitor is being treated second to the stayover visitor. ‘The Owen Roberts International Airport has heavy duty commercial tent shades all the way along the sidewalk,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing like that in George Town, nevermind Spotts.’
Mr. Hamaty believes the Spotts dock should be immediately extended following an environmental impact study along with facilities there being improved.
‘If the Government does not have the funds it should be given to private enterprise to develop,’ he said.
Although Spotts may only be used around 10 times a year, the business lost from it adds up, said Mr. Broadbelt.
‘There’s lost business because of the way things are set up out there and some ships choose not to come here if they have to dock at Spotts.’
Mr. Hamaty said that some ships are also turned off Spotts as they cannot anchor and have to be on their engines all day there. The anchor ban was introduced in order to save the reefs in that area.
Only three ships may use this secondary dock at a time, but Joseph Woods, manager Cruise Operations and Security with the Port Authority said that they normally don’t have a problem filling the three places available there. ‘If one decides to sail by another will takes its place,’ he said.
As of last week Spotts Dock had been used 15 days this year, it was used five days last year and 12 days in 2006.
Mr. Broadbelt has proposed a solution to the problem at Spotts.
‘If Government revisited the cruise tax for the days Spotts was used and put that money back into Spotts, that alone would be a significant improvement,’ he said.
The cruise tax per passenger is CI$6 (not including extra that goes to the Environmental Protection Fund).
If 3,000 passengers came into Spotts over 10 days of the year, that would be 30,000 passengers, which, at $6 a head cruise tax, would mean $180,000 for improvements at Spotts.
According to Mr. Hamaty, in the past 23 months Cayman has lost up to 190,000 passengers due to bad weather from ships bypassing Cayman completely, although he added that obviously there are times when the weather is just too bad to dock at either Spotts or George Town.
‘In port fees lost that’s approximately $2 million. The economic loss to the island could be as high as $20 million depending on whose figures we use for cruise passenger spending in a day.
‘The question ‘Can we afford it?’ is answered due to the loss to the country,’ he said.
Potential stayover visitors can also be put off by lack of facilities at Spotts, Mr. Davies noted.
‘Many islands look at cruise tourism as a way of marketing their stayover tourism products and have active cruise tourism conversion programmes.
‘On a ship like the Freedom Class ships from Royal Caribbean International approximately 15 per cent of its 4,000 guests would definitely fit into Cayman’s criteria of $100,000 family income criteria for stayover tourists.
‘Therefore every time one of these vessels calls at Spotts, 600 potential stay over tourists are getting their first impression of the Cayman Islands as the Spotts landing area. So this doesn’t just affect cruise tourism.’