For years now, there’s been a lot of talk from politicians about the need to make the Cayman Islands a high-end tourism destination.
Indeed, most industry experts agree Cayman’s future in the Caribbean tourism market lies in upper-end tourism, not with mass tourism. With the real prospects of Cuba opening up to American tourists just to the north, coupled with mass tourism markets in Jamaica to the east and Mexico to the west, Cayman will find itself virtually surrounded by destinations with which it cannot compete – as least as far as the budget-minded tourist is concerned.
Given the higher costs of goods and services here and Cayman’s small size, the only logical way to go forward is through high-end tourism. But while everyone talks about the need to do this, there seems to be little beyond talk to actually make it happen.
During the current government administration, which has launched the much ballyhooed Go East initiative, we’ve heard about three potential luxury products in the eastern districts. Two are condotel-type projects, one in Beach Bay and another in Colliers, and one is the boutique Mandarin Oriental hotel along the Queen’s Highway.
The Mandarin is a well-known luxury brand that, in addition to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, could reinforce the idea of the Cayman Islands as a high-end tourism destination. The developers of the proposed Island Resorts and Residences in Colliers have also said they intend to bring in a high-end brand name to manage their five-star luxury project.
Although there is no public indication that the government stifled these projects, there is also no public indication that the government did anything to really support the developments either. At the same time, the government has put a lot of effort into supporting the port redevelopment project because of the expressed need to protect the cruise tourism industry.
We live in challenging financial times where the competition for tourist dollars in the region is expanding. It’s no longer good enough just to pay lip service to developers who have the abilities to help the Cayman Islands realise its goal of becoming a high-end tourism destination.
The fact that Mike Ryan fought so long and so hard to make the Ritz a reality here is a testament to his fortitude. But times are changing and it’s doubtful other developers are going to be as patient and preserving as Mr. Ryan. There are, after all, other places in the world to build luxury hotels. Cayman’s advantages of good infrastructure, political stability and low crime rates can only take us so far.
If the Cayman Islands is serious about luring luxury developments, it will need to be much more proactive about it going into the future.