Air arrivals dipping

What looked like a very promising year for air arrival growth ended with just a four per cent increase on 2007 because of a drop of 13.7 per cent in the last two months of 2008.

The recent decrease in air arrivals compared to the same months in 2007 began in the last four months of 2008, but was significant especially in November and December. In November there was a drop of 22 per cent and in December there was a drop of seven per cent.

Up to then, in general, air arrivals had been increasing month over month every year since Hurricane Ivan.

Before the drop in numbers in November and December, 2008 was showing eight per cent growth over 2007

The total air arrival figure for 2008 was 302,879, which showed an increase of 11,376 arrivals or 3.9 per cent on last year, according to the most recently released tourism statistics from the Department of Tourism.

But Cayman did reach its target figure for the year. At September’s Annual Tourism Conference Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott outlined that the target figure for this year is 300,000 tourist air arrivals.

‘For the first time since 2002, the Cayman Islands has achieved the target of welcoming over 300,000 stayover visitors to its shores,’ said Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford.

He said this growth was reached despite suffering the effects of three hurricanes, two of which led to the closure of the destination to visitors.

‘Our numbers were further affected by the continued closure of Cayman Brac, the loss of room stock when the Marriott Courtyard closed its doors due to damages sustained from Hurricane Paloma and the current economic crisis felt by the world over.

‘Despite these factors – through foresight and hard work, along with solid public and private sector cooperation we met our target as a country.’

2008 is the third year in a row that there has been an increase year over year in air arrivals. The increase began in 2006 when the Cayman Islands began a tourism recovery following Hurricane Ivan, which damaged 90 per cent of buildings on Grand Cayman in September 2004.

Out of the past nine years, 2008 is the third highest figure for air arrivals, the highest being in 2000 and 2001 with figures of 354,087 and 334,071 respectively.

December 2008’s air arrivals, at 28,150, were down seven per cent on that of 2007, with 2,105 fewer air arrivals.

Meanwhile, 2008 has been the third worst performing year for cruise tourism in the past nine years. Cruise arrival figures in 2008 were ended up down 9.5 per cent on the previous year

Minister Clifford said, ‘Cruise tourism on the other hand has been even more tumultuous. Our 9.5 per cent decline brings us back to parity with 2002 cruise arrival figures.’

The past two years in a row have seen cruise tourism on a decline following a peak of 1.9 million passengers in 2006.

For the year to date, there were 162,613 fewer cruise arrivals than in 2007 with 1.55 million as opposed to 1.71 million.

Cruise tourist arrivals for 2007 had finished 11 per cent down on 2006.

The Minister commented, ‘The number of cruise ships visiting the region has declined as cruise lines moved to execute their European strategy in early 2008. Here in the Cayman Islands that decline can also be attributed to the artificial inflation we experienced in 2006 due to hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

‘Our arrival numbers also suffered heavily due to the loss of 54 ships calling to our shores with a capacity of over 120, 000 passengers. The loss of these calls was attributed to a combination of factors, mostly poor weather conditions. Adding to the problem is the redeployment of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines vessels in preparation for launch of the first Oasis class mega ship in December 2009.’

Cruise arrivals in December 2008 were 163,725 with 1,696 more cruise arrivals, or up one per cent than the previous December.

The statistics can be viewed at www.caymanislands.ky/statistics

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