Berthing dock will break us

Recently, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, and the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism issued a statement demanding that Grand Cayman must have a berthing facility for cruise ships and the berthing facility must be in the George Town Harbour area.

These are pretty strong statements from a group of business owners that will not have to worry about paying the bill for this project. But we can understand the reason for their position – they are looking to make money.

The ACT members are said to be concerned about the continuing decrease in cruise ship arrivals and the severe impact it is having on their businesses. But building berthing facilities will not necessarily increase cruise ship arrivals.

In fact, over the past years we have been experiencing steady annual increases in cruise passengers – even without berthing facilities. The decline that we, and the rest of the Caribbean are experiencing, is more likely being caused by the current global economic meltdown. It is not because we don’t have berthing facilities. People are simply saving more and travelling less. No dock in the world will change that.

The main problem with our tourism industry is the lack of foresight and planning. Many businesses have become complacent throughout the boom years and now lack the ability to innovate. They have enjoyed many profitable years without having to think outside the box.

Historically the ACT and the CITA might have looked to Government to provide the solutions and maintain the steady flow of customers. But, this time Government cannot help. Sadly, our Government even seems incapable of helping itself. As a country, we appear to be stumbling from one crisis to the next. We do not even have a National Tourism Plan that takes into account the changing world dynamics and travel trends. For example, when Cuba opens up, what are we going to do? Does the ACT or the CITA think that a cruise berth will help their business then? If we are going to spend over 200 million on a capital project for tourism, the Minister of Tourism should at least ensure that it benefits more than a few business owners on the waterfront.

Ironically, while the Government is on the verge of committing us to millions of dollars in debt to accommodate the cruise tourism business; the cruise lines are busy implementing strategies to ensure that passengers spend more of their money onboard the ships.

Several of the cruise lines are reportedly issuing their own on-board credit cards, while the mega-ships that we are so eager to destroy our environment to accommodate; will actually have their own on-board discount jewellery stores and will literally be designed as floating malls. I also understand that one cruise line is even encouraging its passengers to leave all cash and credit cards on the ship if they are taking pre-booked tours. So, Mr. Clifford, what are the passengers going to spend when they come ashore – ‘Chuckie Dollars’?

Instead of focusing on cheap mass cruise ship tourists, who come ashore empty-handed with ‘Chuckie Dollars’, we should be concentrating on mid to high income stayover tourists who spend ‘real’ dollars. Unfortunately, however, this is unlikely to happen; because, despite making the bold declaration on page 16 of its 2005 Manifesto that it will ‘Focus on quality rather than quantity in the tourism sector’; we can now see that the PPM Government is really committed to a tourism policy that will eventually turn us into another Disneyland.

The sad part is, they will make us all broke while they are doing it.

Perhaps someone should tell them that we won’t be able to use ‘Chuckie Dollars’ to repay the cruise berth loan.

Walling Whittaker