Today’s Editorial for April 29: A fight for tourism survival

At the recent annual general meeting of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, President Stephen Broadbelt talked about needing to get air arrival numbers up to 400,000 per year to get past ‘survival point’.

Although Mr. Broadbelt acknowledged that getting to that number is a five-year plan, reaching the goal might be even harder than anticipated, seeing that our tourism figures are going in the opposite direction – and fast.

Air arrivals are down over 14 per cent for the year after falling almost 19 per cent in March. If the trend continues, stay-over visitors very well could dip to their lowest level in the last decade, excluding 2005 when Grand Cayman was still recovering from Hurricane Ivan.

There are several reasons why tourism is dropping, the global economic crisis probably being the leading one.

But another big reason is price.

While Cayman has offered some price discounts on its tourism products for the winter season, it has tried not to make the discounts too deep, partially for fear of not being able to raise the prices back up later.

This strategy contrasts to what Jamaica is doing, where deep discounts of up to 60 per cent are being offered on accommodations and vacation packages to encourage tourism.

The strategy has worked for Jamaica, which, despite the global economic crisis, is reporting a record year in tourism so far.

Objectors to the strategy will argue that with the kind of discounts currently being offered in Jamaica, hotels might not even break even. This might be true, but these hotels are getting good revenue streams; they’re keeping their employees busy and well paid; they probably won’t lose as much as if they hadn’t implemented the deep discounts; and they’re attracting people to the country, which helps the greater economy even if the visitors are staying at all-inclusive resorts.

Cayman’s discounts, even for the Summer Splash promotion, cannot compete with the deals being offered in Jamaica. With tourists knowing there are great deals out there right now, Cayman’s offering of ‘pay for four room nights when you book five’ and kids fly free on Cayman Airways just can’t compete.

It’s true that Cayman wants to market itself as a high-end tourism destination and does not want to cater to the mass tourism market of places like Jamaica.

But right now, Cayman doesn’t even have enough luxury resorts to accommodate the number of high-end visitors needed for tourism survival and our meagre Caribbean market share is dwindling.

If tourism leaders are now talking about ‘survival points’ in tourism, perhaps survival tactics should also be put in place – at least until we can build some more luxury resorts to accommodate these high-end tourists about whom we so often speak.

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