All Cayman tourism is Important

In response to a recent observation made by the editor about why the government appears to be in a rush regarding the port I would like to offer my situation as an example as to why our government is not wasting any time with their pursuit of the port.

I currently operate a store in the Thompson Building, which I started with my late mother, Eloisa March, back in 1995. Like any other business that depends on tourism we would have our seasonal ups and downs. After years of growing pains the business started to perform well and with the numbers of 2005 and 2006, it appeared that 2007 was going to be the year that I would finally see the fruits of my labour.

Wrong! Since the beginning of 2007 business has decreased due to the decrease in ships calling on our port. Prior to 2007 I had at least six staff. Now I have trouble paying a staff of four. I do not take home a salary as all cash flow stays in the business to service operating costs and our business loan. In addition to all this I also lost a sale for the business when the buyers saw the decrease in sales, which occurred in 2007. If the decrease in cruise ships calling on our port has had this effect on my business then imagine the overall loss that our island as a whole has experienced!

You never used to see vacant retail space in George Town. There are now three within a stone’s throw of my shop alone! I have hung in there hoping that a new port (one that could at least allow us to extract more business from the remaining ships calling on us) would have been started by now.

We obviously have to be very careful with our environment and I commend the government for involving the public in developing the parameters for the Environmental Impact Assessment. The fact remains, however, that unless the EIA indicates that there is going to be serious negative impact to our marine environment and/or erosion of Seven Mile Beach as a result of the new port facilities, there is no other project that this government or any other could undertake that would provide as much economic stimulus to create as many new jobs and small business opportunities for our people as the port project would.

Contrary to popular belief(supported by a constant flow of inflammatory comments and scare tactics from those who foolishly believe we don’t need cruise tourism) it is not just Mr. Dart/Island Companies and the Kirkconnells who will benefit from improved port facilities! There are a lot of us little guys too. It seems like most of the objectors feel that only the hotel/condo sector of Cayman’s tourism product is important and that the many small Caymanian businesses/ individuals that are involved in the cruise sector are not.

The hotels and condos employ many Caymanians and I would never argue against the magnitude of their importance, I just wish that those who look down their noses at cruise tourism could be objective enough to realize the importance of cruise tourism as well. If we look at the total sum of all cruise visitor spending and not just focus on per person spending then we just might see how important cruise tourism is to our economy.

The opportunities provided by cruise tourism for Caymanians to have their own business whether it be a tour bus, a boat that runs North Sound trips, a taxi, a small booth at the craft market, or a small retail business (selling souvenirs, refreshments, etc.) are quite good due to the relatively low barriers to entry.

I have heard people say that the new port is being built for the cruise lines. Nonsense! It is being built to provide jobs and small business opportunities for Caymanians. Barack Obama said very wisely that there is only the United States of America (not a black and a white one)! I say there is only Cayman Islands tourism (not a cruise and a stayover one) and that we have to wisely manage and maximise the potential of all of our tourism because that is what will help all Caymanians.

There are also the timid pessimists who promote a passive ‘wait and see’ approach and say that we shouldn’t take on any big projects because of the economic downturn in North America. We have got to realise that in addition to being a huge economic stimulus for the private sector, the port will also be a generator of government revenue. Sometimes we must make tough decisions that will put us in a position to make a stronger recovery when things start to improve. We’ve also got to keep in mind that cruise lines plan their schedules one to two years in advance.

While I’m on the subject, I also strongly support enlarging the Spotts Dock to take two more tenders if this is possible. The amount of revenue this would generate for both government and the private sector in one season of bad weather alone should easily justify the investment.

The government extended the public input period for the EIA for one week. If it was important enough to you that your voice be heard then I hope you made that call or wrote that letter! This country has waited long enough for this project to get started and cannot be held hostage at the leisure of a few who have more to lose (i.e. from the negative socioeconomic effects of a stagnant economy such as crime and unemployment caused by a lack of job/business opportunities) than they realise if this is delayed further.

Thanks to the editor for being objective and allowing my contribution.

Noel March