Tourism featured strongly in the discussion at the second Chamber of Commerce District Candidates’ Forum for Bodden Town at the Savannah United Church Monday
Four candidates were represented at the forum, with independents Justin Woods and Vincent Frederick joined by Mark Scotland of the United Democratic Party and Osbourne Bodden of the People’s Progressive Movement.
The candidates were asked whether they viewed the opening of Cuba as an opportunity or threat to Cayman’s tourism.
Mr. Bodden said it would pose a threat.
‘Once Cuba opens up widely to America, it will pull its fair share of tourism,’ he said. ‘We have to make sure that we position our tourism market so that rather than losing from Cuba opening we actually could piggyback on tourists that go through to Cuba.’
Mr. Woods believed that although it could pose a threat, it could be a catalyst for change.
‘We have an opportunity to build on our reputation for being a luxury family vacation,’ he said. ‘We need to put more emphasis on the Asian and European market if we are going to compete.’
Mr. Scotland was concerned that Cayman had not done enough to define itself as a destination.
‘What we haven’t done is to establish a clear national brand image for our tourism,’ he said.
Mr. Frederick viewed Cuba as presenting an opportunity, but suggested a dramatic shift.
‘We cannot keep looking to bring the high rich people into these Islands when poor and middle class people from around the world are looking for an opportunity to visit our shores.’
When the attention turned to Bodden Town issues, the candidates were generally in agreement, with all of them supporting the building of the seawall to protect the Savannah gully from flooding.
Some of the most interesting suggestions of the evening came in response to a question on generating more revenue for the country.
Mr. Bodden suggested that there is not a crisis in terms of revenue.
‘What I see is us needing to do a much better job in terms of expenditure,’ he said. ‘We need to make government more efficient.’
He also suggested taking a small percentage of any money sent out of the island through the banks and money services.
Mr. Woods agreed that government has to be made more efficient.
‘We have to spend according to what we earn, not try to earn according to what we want to spend.’
He also suggested that education could develop into a new growth area.
‘We can expand on the education institutions we have here and create an education pillar to our economy.’
Mr. Scotland suggested that increasing revenue from Cayman’s current main revenue sources is the way forward.
‘Our tourism industry needs to be diversified,’ he said. ‘In terms of the financial industry I would encourage more business to conduct their business here.’
Mr. Frederick suggested that there was a lack of new ideas.
‘I plan to introduce a foreign worker’s tax.’
He went on to say that he would introduce an infrastructure fee on all commercial buildings over 500 square feet at $2 per square feet.
The candidates also had strong opinions on the efforts of foreign governments to lay blame on offshore centres for the financial crisis and what they would do to protect Cayman from this onslaught.
Mr. Frederick came out strongly against the actions being taken by the G20.
‘We’re doing absolutely nothing that affects these countries,’ he said. ‘We have better financial controls than these countries. They should deal with their problems before they blame smaller countries like the Cayman Islands.’
Mr. Bodden put much of it down to envy.
‘We are looked at as one of the premier destinations for financial services, therefore there is a certain jealousy that goes along with that reputation from some of the larger countries.’
In terms of what Cayman should do to stave off these attacks, Mr. Bodden said that all the country could do was be as transparent as possible.
Mr. Woods said Cayman needs to work on its public relations in the financial world.
‘Putting us out of business is not going to benefit them,’ he said. ‘As a matter of fact, it is going to hurt them because right now we are transparent. We have to work on our PR initiatives to get that point across.’
Mr. Scotland said it was a case of pure scapegoating.
‘The current financial crisis had nothing to do with any offshore jurisdiction, and has much more to do with poor banking practices in the US.’
He suggested a more proactive approach to keeping Cayman’s financial industry safe and believes that cooperation with other offshore jurisdictions could help safeguard the industry.