Larger ships sought
Visiting cruise ships will stay in Cayman longer if they are allowed to open their onboard services, including gambling.
Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon last week, Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush said the Cayman Islands government had discussed with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association the possibility of having ships stay in port longer, or overnight, once cruise berthing facilities are built.
‘However, they would want their on-board services to remain open while berthed here,’ he said. ‘Longer stays are bound to result in greater spending here, benefiting downtown and other tourist-heavy concerns.’
Speaking more about the matter this week, Mr. Bush told the Caymanian Compass that the cruise lines would want to have their gaming facilities open in Cayman’s waters if they stayed in port longer.
‘Obviously, the local people would have to weigh in on the issue,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘It’s not something I can make up my mind on alone. But I would like to see the cruise ships here longer.’
Backbench MLA Cline Glidden Jr., who is part of the elected government’s port redevelopment team, said that having a cruise berthing facility would change Grand Cayman from a one-tour destination to a two-tour destination. That means cruise passengers would have time to visit more than one attraction if they didn’t have to spend hours getting to and from the ship. If the ships stayed later as well, he said this would only increase the average spending per visiter.
‘Right now, cruise passengers are limited as far as time in what they can do,’ he said, adding that one of the reasons the Pedro St. James tourist attraction hasn’t been more successful is the limited time cruise passengers have here.
Mr. Glidden said studies have shown that up to 30 per cent of cruise passengers will come ashore after sunset if a cruise ship were berthed. However, he said that leaves 70 per cent of the passengers still the ship, and the on-board services need to be available for these people or the ships won’t stay in port.
‘What the public is going to have to decide is whether it is worth it to them to make concessions to get the ships to stay longer,’ he said. ‘There are some significant benefits for the ships staying here.’
Larger ships sought
If Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush has his way, passenger ships as large and grand as the Queen Mary 2 will come to the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Bush said at the legislative luncheon the Cayman Islands Government has commenced discussions with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association on the subject.
‘They appear receptive to our request for bigger and quality ships such as the Queen Mary  visiting our shores,’ he said. ‘They require that we get our cruise berthing in place, but they are definitely willing to rekindle a partnership with us.’
Mr. Bush said he believes the Cayman Islands must go forward with the building of a berthing facility for at least four cruise ships. He did not think building a berthing pier for only two ships would suffice.
‘I don’t think two is enough,’ he said. ‘If anything, I think what we should be considering is if there should be [berthing facilities] for six.’
Although he supports the building of cruise berthing piers, Mr. Bush said he would only do so if an environmental impact study showed it would not detrimentally impact Seven Mile Beach.
‘That’s my biggest concern,’ he said.
During the legislative luncheon, Mr. Bush stressed the importance of facilitating the cruise industry.
‘If we think we’re the only girl on the block, we’re sadly mistaken,’ he said. ‘There are plenty of other places for the ships to go.’
Mr. Bush expressed a sense of urgency in coming to a decision on the berthing facility.
‘We cannot just sit down for two to three years,’ he said. ‘We don’t have that time to wait.
‘We have to move quickly. If we don’t, we’re going to lose business and if we do, we’ll be able to increase revenues.’
Mr. Bush said there have already been six discussions with the Cruise Association and that representatives from that organisation are scheduled to visit Cayman in the coming weeks.
Mr. Glidden Jr., said the government is pursuing a financing arrangement for the cruise ship berthing facility similar to the agreement that funded the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal.
‘What we’re looking for is a buy-in from the cruise lines where there would be no cost to government,’ he said, explaining that the Cruise Association would guarantee the loan through payments made from arriving cruise tourists on a per-passenger amount.
While discussions with the Cruise Association on berthing docks are on-going, newly appointed chairman of the Port Authority, Stefan Baraud, said his board’s immediate focus is improving the experience of Cayman’s cruise passengers.
‘We have to; it’s imperative,’ he said.
Mr. Baraud spoke of embracing former Director of Tourism Lania Rittenhouse’s initiative to convert cruise tourists to stay-over tourists.
‘How can we accomplish anything like that, given the experience of the cruise ship passengers right now,’ he said. ‘We treat cattle better than we treat cruise passengers today. We line them up in the hot sun and make them wait for hours.’
Mr. Baraud said cruise passengers are getting off the tenders and entering a large concrete pier that says little of the Cayman Islands.
‘We have an opportunity to improve our messaging when these people get off the ships,’ he said.
One idea Mr. Baraud suggested is having craft vendors occupy the centre area of the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal, which would not only give the cruise passengers something else to do, but could also increase the revenues
‘Right now, it’s a waste of space and this in an opportunity to create revenue at little or no cost to the Port,’ he said.
Mr. Baraud said he would also like to reign in some of the tour operators who aggressively try to sell trips to arriving passengers.
‘We’ve labelled ourselves a first-class destination,’ he said. ‘We have to look the part and act the part.’
‘If we think we’re the only girl on the block, we’re sadly mistaken. There are plenty of other places for the ships to go.’ McKeeva Bush.