Tour operator says he was jilted

A Caymanian tour operator had a contract ended by a cruise line just a month into it says he received no help locally.

‘If tourism is not benefiting the local person then what is the purpose of this industry?’ asked West Bayer Shane Courtney Ebanks of Best Value Watersports and Tours Cayman.

He started business in the tourism industry in 1991 on the cruise ship pier in George Town soliciting business by holding a sign advertising his tours.

But in February 2008 he approached Boatswain’s Beach about trying to get a contract with at least one of the cruise lines.

Together they came up with a tour that comprised a snorkel excursion to Stingray City and an island tour including stops at Hell and the Turtle Farm with Mr. Ebanks providing round-trip transportation and the use of his boats.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. showed interest and after months of hard work by The Turtle Farm and Best Value Watersports, including making a video of what the tour was about, a contract between Royal Caribbean and the Turtle Farm was signed and Mr. Ebanks signed his sub-contract with the Turtle Farm.

‘The idea of this tour was to ensure that the passengers were able to spend more time at the Turtle Farm and actually have time to shop and of course eat and drink . . . unlike our competitors who sometimes only allow their guests to visit the farm for half an hour.’

They started the contract on 6 October, 2008, but on 8 October Mr. Ebanks was informed by Mr. Raymond Hydes of the Turtle Farm that the cruise line’s head office had called to say they were terminating the contract come 30 November, 2008 – 10 months earlier than when the contract was due to end.

While the contract does state that cruise line has the right to terminate the agreement 30 days prior to written notice, Mr. Ebanks claims he didn’t get written notice.

He said the Turtle Farm had relayed back to him feedback from the cruise line that the tour was a copy of a competitor’s tour. But Mr. Ebanks asked why only one company should have sole rights to do the combination of Stingray City, Hell and the Turtle Farm tour for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise Lines.

‘Our tour was by far more personalised and better service,’ Mr. Ebanks said. ‘The monopoly of this cruise business has to stop. It is time to get back to what got us here – our people, our hospitality and genuine care for others.’

Mr. Ebanks added that he had invested $80,000 in a boat, which he is still paying for, to help accommodate the contract.

Then, in December 2008, Mr. Joey Ebanks, the then managing director of Boatswain’s Beach, and Mr. Shane Ebanks went to the Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford with the issue.

‘He promised he would look into this matter urgently and would get back to us. To this date I have heard nothing from the Minister,’ said Mr. Shane Ebanks.

Mr. Ebanks did get in touch with Chief Officer at the Ministry of Tourism, Mrs Gloria McField-Nixon who told him she had emailed the cruise line but had gotten no response.

The Ministry of Tourism had not responded to requests from the Caymanian Compass for comments on this issue by press time.

Cynthia Martinez, manager corporate communications with Royal Caribbean Cruises, told the Caymanian Compass that when Royal Caribbean first agreed to the tour, it was under the impression that the tour was solely a turtle farm tour.

‘We then realised that it was a combo turtle farm/stingray tour, which was very similar to a tour we already offered our guests.

‘We did not feel that we have enough demand for two identical tours, so we cancelled the contract.’

But Mr. Ebanks said this was simply an excuse because they had been required to send the cruise line a video of exactly what the tour was about and had sent a written proposal outlining the exact content of the tour with a detailed timeline of how much time was spent at each place, including Hell and Stingray City.

Now, 18 years on from starting in the tourism business, Mr. Ebanks is back on the dock holding a sign and hoping that tourists take his tour.

Overall, Mr. Ebanks said, in his experience, there is no encouragement of entrepreneurship in these islands for locals.

‘No matter how many big, pretty buildings we build, if our people are not given equal opportunity to make good of their chance then we labour and spend in vain. As we build buildings let us also put that same emphasis on our people, for we must grow as we build,’ he said.

‘Down at the dock is complete chaos because you’ve got people who speak Spanish, speak English. You’ve got 50 different bookers and they are all cutting their prices,’ he said.

Mr. Ebanks is also disappointed that a recent application he made to the Public Transport Board to upgrade his seating capacity by one 28-seater bus was turned down.

‘I only have one bus, been in business since 1991 and I applied for a bus this year. After all, we have three boats that can move 220-plus people at any one time. One bus and they refused me based on supply and demand.

Mr. Shane Ebanks