Tourism numbers in nosedive

Hopes for a reasonably good high-tourist season performance were dashed with the announcement last week that stay-over tourism numbers fell a whopping 18.8 per cent in March compared to a year ago.

Excluding March 2005, when Grand Cayman was still trying to repair its room stock after Hurricane Ivan the September before, the figure of 31,194 air arrivals last month was the lowest for any March this decade.

Stay-over tourism for the year is down 14.4 per cent. The monthly decline compared to last year has gotten progressively worse from January, when air arrivals were down 9.4 per cent. The numbers were then down 12.8 per cent in February.

Cruise arrivals, which are down 15.9 per cent on the year, fell 8.3 per cent this March compared to a year ago.

Last month’s figure of 167,418 cruise arrivals was the lowest for the month of March since 2002.

Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford admitted the figures were not what he had hoped for when he said last November he was upbeat for a high-season at least as good as the previous year.

‘When we predicted that this winter season was going to be at least as strong as last year’s winter season, that wasn’t just a prediction of the Ministry or the Minister,’ he said. ‘That was a collective prediction in a meeting with the private sector. We looked at all of the variables and the opportunities and the challenges and we looked at the restricted booking window and notwithstanding that restricted booking window, we still saw relatively strong performances month over month.

‘As it has happened, that prediction isn’t quite accurate. But, having said that, we have still performed quite strongly compared to other countries in the region.’

Mr. Clifford said part of the problems have been Hurricane Ivan and last November’s Hurricane Paloma.

‘The entire tourism industry in Cayman Brac was shut down for six months and one of our major hotels here closed because of hurricane damage from Hurricane Paloma,’ he said. ‘It means that the number of available rooms have been reduced from what it was a year ago. So, when you consider that and look at the current occupancies at the hotels that are operating, they are doing fairly well

However, Minister Clifford warned that the swine flu issue could negatively affect visitor numbers even more.

‘This is yet another challenge that we are facing because, as has happened in the past with SARS…that affected travel around the world and we expect that this could have a similar impact.’

If only the year-to-date percentage decreases were to continue for the rest of the year, air arrivals would fall to below 259,500, lower than any year this decade with the exception of the post-Hurricane Ivan recover year of 2005.

If cruise arrival numbers were to decrease at the same 15.9 per cent rate, the cruise passenger number would dip to just more than 1.3 million passengers, by far the lowest number since 2001.