Tourism challenges loom

This will be a challenging year for Cayman Islands’ tourism.

Cruise ship passengers

A group of cruise ship passengers found a quiet beach to frolic behind Mr. Arthur’s Shop on North Church Street. The George Town harbour front was a bee hive of activity with three ships in port yesterday. Tourism Minister Charles Clifford has warned that the Cayman Islands will experience challenges in the tourism industry this year.
Photo: Jewel Levy

‘We are going to have to work harder than ever and be incredibly smart in our marketing decisions in order to maintain our position in these challenging times,’ said Tourism Minister Charles Clifford at a recent press conference.

The conference highlighted the Department of Tourism’s recent week-long US marketing summit in Miami.

The Caribbean Tourism Organisation is predicting the Caribbean will see a steep decline in visitor numbers.

‘And while we don’t expect such a decline ourselves, 2009 will be a very challenging year for us,’ said Mr. Clifford.

Minister Clifford said, ‘Consumer confidence is at an unprecedented low, driven by fear, uncertainty and concern.’

Consumer confidence in the USA was ranked at 75 per cent in March 2008 and had dropped to 38 per cent by January.

CITA President Stephen Broadbelt a large portion of business for big hotels is corporate group travel, which is going to disappear. It will have to be replaced by leisure travel, he said.

‘That’s a shift and we’re working hard to replace that business that we might lose down the line as companies cut back on their travel groups and replace that with vacation in the family market, this year especially,’ he said.

Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott said families are more important than ever.

‘Our research showed that consumers will cut spending when it comes to themselves, but when it comes to their kids and their families that’s the last thing they’ll cut from the budget. So they still will travel to destinations to have these long-lasting experiences.

‘This is where the Cayman Islands is perfectly positioned. For years we’ve targeted families especially during the summer. We’re safe, we’re close to the US, we give good value for money and we have a lot of family activities so we just need to leverage all these different benefits,’ he said.

This year’s Summer Splash promotion allows kids to stay, fly, eat and dive free.

‘This year we think we have an offer that won’t be able to be matched by the rest of the Caribbean,’ he said.

Another asset being used is the Blackpearl Skate Park at Grand Harbour. Plans are afoot to have pro-skateboarders come down and offer skate camps to kids in conjunction with the Summer Splash programme.

Mr. Scott said skateboarding has eclipsed baseball as the national pastime of America’s youth.

He said travel experts are advising people not to book too far in advance in order to get better deals.

‘This is where we have to come up with tactical offers in working with the private sector and with Cayman Airways…to book further ahead,’ he said. ‘…More than ever now the visitors will still travel, especially in our demographic, but you have to show value for them to travel.’

For the first quarter of this year customers can earn resort credits.

Mr. Scott said promotions are a balancing act, the discount can’t be too extreme, but it must show the customer value.

Mr. Broadbelt said the pieces are in place to make it easy to travel to the Caribbean right now.

‘We’re seeing all-time low airfares; it’s cheap to fly to the Caribbean, especially the Cayman Islands,’ he said

He said customers are already planning their next trip back here before prices go up again.

Another challenge is that the booking window is getting shorter and shorter and it is becoming more difficult to do projections and forward planning.

Minister Clifford explained: ‘When we entered 2008 the industry enjoyed a 30-to-60-day booking window. Throughout 2008 we all saw that window dwindle to a couple of weeks.

‘During the meetings with trade partners last month they reported the booking window is shrinking further, to as little as five days,’ he said. ‘So when you’re operating in that kind of environment it’s very, very difficult to predict what is going to happen going forward.’

One business strategy is to continue to explore other secondary markets whose economic prospects remain strong and where impediments to travel are relatively low, said the Minister.

The DoT is researching South America as a potential secondary tourist market.

The information will be shared with Cayman Airways.

Another objective is to transition the Department of Tourism into a tourism authority as a demonstration of the strong partnership developed with the private sector.

Mrs. Trina Christian, executive director of CITA said there is a much stronger need to develop relationships with customers, build trust and offer exceptional service.

The Ministry and Department of Tourism, along with its international agencies plan to meet again in April.

The Marketing Summit meetings convened by Mr. Clifford and Mr. Scott brought together the Ministry of Tourism, Department of Tourism along with its US, Canadian and European office representatives, Cayman Airways, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association and DoT’s marketing agencies.

The meetings were conducted to inform and develop DoT’s marketing strategies for 2009-10.