Private sector tourism organisations said they were pleased to have the new Minister responsible for Tourism McKeeva Bush listen to their concerns on his first day in office.
The meeting was held at the Westin Casuarina Resort Thursday to review the facts about tourism and hear immediate concerns.
Mr. Bush shared the head table with ministerial colleagues Mike Adam and Mark Scotland, as well as government back bencher MLA Cline Glidden Jr., new Tourism Chief Officer Carson Ebanks and Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott.
Representatives of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, The Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism and the Sister Islands Tourism Association were on hand with their concerns.
‘It was a good start,’ said President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Stephen Broadbelt
‘The meeting went well. They made it clear they were there to listen and were receptive to what we had to say and they seem eager to get down to business,’ he said.
A Government press release said Mr. Bush told some 35 stakeholders the government would move quickly to help make a positive difference and that regular industry meetings would follow to address all issues.
Mr. Bush explained that immediate initiatives would involve Cayman Airways, the cruise industry and particularly, the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association.
Meetings are planned with the FCCA in Miami, followed by discussions with airlines servicing Cayman.
‘I need to be brought up to speed on the internal budgets,’ said Mr. Bush. ‘Then we will look to prioritise our funds for marketing, promotions and product development, especially customer service and human capital development, to make our three islands the preferred destination in the Caribbean.’
Initiatives in the broader spectrum would involve the airport and port development, Mr. Bush noted.
He said the post-Ivan closure of the Hyatt Regency Hotel is something that needs to addressed.
Mr. Brynley Davies, director of ACT, said cruise numbers are down 30 per cent from their peak in 2007.
‘We’re in a bind because that’s a third of our business gone from the peak in 2007,’ he said.
‘I thought it was a very constructive move to see the Government move so quickly to listen to the private sector and the state of the tourism industry,’ he said. ‘The fact that Mr. Bush stated he was there to listen to the issues of our elements of the tourism industry was very healthy. It’s important you understand that the Government is listening to your needs.’
He said Mr. Bush highlighted the fact that the downturn in cruise tourism was affecting Caymanians.
The main issues ACT addressed included the cruise berthing facility, which Mr. Davies said is the biggest improvement over the long term that Cayman can make. He said it is important that they work quickly in a public/private capacity to find solutions.
‘ACT stands ready in forming a public/private partnership to aide the government in building bridges with the cruise industry as needed,’ he said.
He spoke about design and operational flaws with the Royal Watler and other cruise terminals.
‘We need to focus on overcrowding, land transportation, shade and waiting times as well as a redefinition of how the Port Authority works with the cruise industry,’ he said.
The main issues the CITA addressed included:
• The lack of tourism representation on Government boards. ‘Some of the smaller issues could be resolved by having a tourism voice on these boards,’ said Mr. Broadbelt.
• The need for additional marketing support. This goes beyond increasing the Department of Tourism’s budget and would focus on support directly related to the airlines in order to secure airlift in the event the downturn in the economy continues. This is because there is some concern the airlines could start dropping routes if poor economic conditions prevail.
‘We support helping them fill the planes,’ said Mr. Broadbelt, who noted that while they already work hard to support Cayman Airways, this also needs to be done with the foreign carriers.
• Establishing north-bound US immigration in Cayman to pre-clear flights in the US. This would allow flights to land as domestic flights in the US and allow for more connectivity, opening up airlift options and could potentially increase loads on flights.
‘It would be a huge success for us to get this,’ said Mr. Broadbelt.
Other issues brought to the fore included the transition of the Department of Tourism to a Tourism Authority, a runway extension at the airport and the airport development, CUC and energy issues and pension issues.
Mr. Bush said, ‘Let’s get back to work to make the tourism industry and product better. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I am here to lead.’