Cruise gambling floated

 With cruise passenger numbers dwindling in Grand Cayman in the past few years, an effort is on to strengthen relationships with the cruise lines and look toward how Cayman can reinforce its position as a top cruise destination in the Caribbean, bringing more cruise tourist dollars into the destination.
   For the year to date cruise tourism arrivals have fallen by six per cent for 2009, last year they fell by 9.5 per cent for the full year and in 2007 they fell by 10.8 per cent from a peak of 1.9 million in 2006.
   One suggestion for how to increase cruise business on shore that has been suggested by the Government is by getting ships to stay longer in port once cruise berthing facilities are established.
   This, however, would need to facilitate cruise lines opening their on-board services, including casinos, into the evening, in a jurisdiction where gambling is currently illegal.
   However, residents of the Cayman Islands cannot gain easy access to cruise ships in port here without being a passenger.
   Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush recently 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.”
   Mr. Bush said that obviously, the local people would have to weigh in on the issue. “It’s not something I can make up my mind on alone. But I would like to see the cruise ships here longer.”
In favour
   In the most recent online poll, which had 909 votes cast, the vast majority of respondents came out in favour of the idea of allowing cruise ships to open their gambling service while in Cayman’s waters if it meant the ships would stay in port longer. 57.8 per cent of respondents (525 votes) said they would absolutely be in favour of it because the business is needed and 18.6 per cent (169 votes) said they are in favour only if residents are banned from gambling on the ships.
   16.1 per cent (146 votes) said they are not in favour of it; a further 6.1 per cent (55 votes) said it depends on how much longer the ships would stay in port; and 1.5 per cent (14 votes) said they didn’t know.
   One person in favour of it commented, “Of course, Cayman’s laws on gambling are old fashioned and church led persecution.”
   Another said, “I would say give it a try to see if business will increase. Most passengers may opt to stay on board for the entertainment and food that has been paid for. The question is what businesses are going to do to entice passengers to come off the ship.”
   Another in favour of the move said, “Yes, yes with the economy the way it is we cannot be so closed minded. The ships have many other ports. We have to do everything in our power to make Cayman stand out. Hoping that the crime on Grand Cayman stops soon or we will not have to worry about tourists wanting to come here.”
   One person who voted “No” commented, “Who’s to say they are going to spend more money here if they stay longer. Once the casinos are closed, we stand a better chance of getting their business.”
   Another not in favour of it commented, “They may stay in port longer, but would anyone get off and venture out?”
   Founding members of  the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism, the local private sector tourism group that represents cruise-tourism related businesses in Cayman, believe that allowing ships to stay longer in port and while doing so open up their casinos, is just one way that Cayman can strengthen its relationship with the cruise lines and competitiveness within the region.
Positive effect
   ACT founding member Gene Thompson said it would positively affect Cayman from a business point of view because it’s that many more dollars staying here that aren’t seen right now. “If legislation was passed to enable that and obviously restricted to the ship, I would be a proponent of it.”
   Another founding member Brynley Davies said that Cayman could control when the ships open the casinos, such as any ship that stays after 5pm.
   “There’s no net negative effect on us because they weren’t going to be here anyway and therefore anything we get from that is a positive but it allows you to control the ability for you to say ‘Open your shops on board after 4 or 5’. You pick a time.”
   But local churches may not be so accepting of the whole idea.
   Reverend Stanwyck Myles of the Church of God Chapel in West Bay questioned whether locals would have access to the ships.
   But based on the scenario that the casinos on board the ships were permitted to open and were just limited to passengers, he said, ‘It would still be gambling, wouldn’t it?”
   Gambling has been proven to be something that is not good for society, he added.
   “I don’t really understand the whole proposition yet – I’m not sure that anybody does – but it’s something we’d need to look at carefully for the future.”
   Reverend Nicholas Sykes of the Church of England, who is also the secretary of the Cayman Minister’s Association which represents many churches in Cayman, said this is certainly a ‘hot potato’ issue.
   “The Association hasn’t met specifically on this matter, but on judging the views of the association in the past I’d imagine that objections would be expressed on this issue.
   “It’s something that would introduce gambling onto these shores and that’s just part of an unfolding situation that could occur here,” he said.
   Davies said if there’s any belief that any members of the general public can get on the ship then that certainly isn’t the case unless they have a very valid business reason. “It’s just impossible. They have very tight security onboard and you just can’t get on.”
Multiple Tours
   Thompson said that if ships are here longer, even without a berthing port, it gives people the opportunity to experience multiple tours, multiple experiences while they are here because even if a ship is berthed and leaves at 4pm passengers are still limited, by time, on the amount of experiences they can have.
   But Davies is quick to point out that he does not believe this would be a ‘magic bullet’ in any way.
Improving Facilities
   “This is not going to suddenly mean that we don’t have to improve other areas within our cruise industry experience. This is just a small part of improving the overall experience and I think that’s a really important point to make because you’ve got a lot of other big issues out there – the biggest one which is obviously the cruise berthing facility.”
   Cruise berthing would see passengers disembarking the ship directly onto a pier without the need for tender boats to ferry passengers back and forth, creating a more seamless experience for the guest.
   He sees ships being able to stay longer as being part of the larger issue of how to improve the overall experience of the cruise visitor to Cayman and how to improve the relationship between Cayman and cruise industry. “If you can improve both of those then everyone has a positive view of Cayman as a jurisdiction to come back to and as a jurisdiction to bring your ships back to and I think that’s really important for us to consider.”
   Davies said the cruise lines want their passengers to have the best time possible in whatever port they are in.
   “They want to go to places that their guests come back from and go ‘Wow, that was a really great day’ and Cayman has a lot to offer in that respect, so our ability to go from good to great is relatively easy if we can put our mind to it.”
   Bush said he believes the Cayman Islands must go forward with the building of a berthing facility for at least four cruise ships.
Oasis of the Seas
   This is something ACT feels very strongly about. The Royal Caribbean ship Oasis of the Seas, which comes on line this December, is too big to be tendered and on its western Caribbean itinerary, which it will do every second week after its first nine months at sea, will see it sail straight by the Cayman Islands. The ship holds 6,000 passengers and 1500 crew.
   Davies explained, “A number of studies have been done on the economic benefit of Oasis calling on a port and it’s enormous,” said Davies. “So that, I would say, is our number one priority to get a dock. If you’ve got a dock in for that and one dock equals two ships essentially if you’ve just got a finger pier. So you’ve got initially two, then going to four and then I’d say ideally at some point in the future, if there is demand for it, then you go for six.”
   Another problem with the Oasis launch is that this ship will ultimately replace a Freedom class ship for Cayman, meaning a loss of 4,000 people a week that were coming here.
   And about 15 per cent of passengers on Oasis are high end guests. The suites are going for $25,000 a week and they are sold out for two years.
   “Let’s not ignore the fact that Oasis has 6,000 people, 900 of which are high end. You could get 900 people here a week on Oasis and Allure [sister ship] who would easily fit into Cayman’s demographic of $100,000 plus [per year household income] and that is really where I think we should be focusing our immediate energies because it’s not costing anything in marketing, its just a question of making sure the ship comes here,” said Davies.
   Thompson said it’s all well and good looking to a specific target market, but for right now Cayman can’t really afford to choose what guests it gets.
   “We need to focus on better improving our services, better improving product and then long term look at the possibility of a specific target market. But right now we have a shrinking cruise tourism industry and therefore we’re in a weak position.”
   The issue of extra police presence in George Town with ships staying later into the night should not be a big stumbling block, Davies believes.
   “You’re always going to need a certain level of police security when you have people involved. These guys are tourists looking for a good time, looking to relax. I don’t see it as being a big issue and it’s going to be more than made up for by the benefits that they bring.”
   President of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association Michele Paige said on behalf of member lines they would not be able to answer questions on this issue by press time as they were to be visiting Grand Cayman during the week beginning Monday, 24 August and they looked forward to receiving Minister Bush’s plans then.
   The Cayman Islands Tourism Association had sent out a survey to its members on this issue but results had not been available for this article by press time.