Tourism Association calls for more hotels, airlift, longer runway

GC has one of shortest runways in Caribbean

More hotels, airlift and a longer runway are critical to the future success of Cayman’s tourism industry says President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Stephen Broadbelt.

cita runway

The Owen Roberts International Airport has one of the shortest runways in the Caribbean for a major destination – at 7,000 ft.

He believes that since Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the room stock in the Cayman Islands has deteriorated to a level that has negatively impacted airlift and the future viability of existing and potential new flights to the Cayman Islands.

Airlift, rooms linked

‘Airlift and room stock are inextricably linked and the amount of rooms available for tourism rentals is the single largest factor for an airline to consider when route planning.’

He added that the industry cannot be dependent on national airline Cayman Airways.

He noted that airlift from foreign carriers currently accounts for 68 per cent of seats to Grand Cayman (southbound from North America) with an even higher share due to their stronger load factors and a higher ratio of visitors versus residents than on Cayman Airways.

Mr. Broadbelt says the loss of the Hyatt combined with the closure of the Courtyard Marriott and Cayman Brac’s Divi Tiara has continued to damage the overall performance of the destination.

‘CITA urges and supports the Cayman Islands Government to do everything within its power to see that these properties are re-developed and re-opened in a fashion that will support the desired outcome of the tourism product,’ he stated.

‘We need a critical mass of room stock to put a convenient flight schedule together,’ he explained.

According to Department of Tourism figures, before Hurricane Ivan in 2004 there was just over 5,500 total room stock for all three islands while for 2008/09 there are approximately 4,500 total rooms for all three islands.

Hotel Rooms Needed

The key point relating to current room stock, said Mr. Broadbelt, is that less than half (only about 2,000) of the rooms are actual hotel rooms.

He noted that Cayman needs to maintain a total room stock in the 5000-5500 range to provide the airlines with the critical mass needed to offer the best airlift and schedules and any increase in room stock needs to be focused on hotel stock.

According to Caribbean Tourism Organisation statistics for last year destinations such as St. Maarten, Cozumel and The British Virgin Islands all had more air arrivals that Cayman but lower room stock levels.

Mr. Broadbelt noted that one of the reasons Cayman’s room stock to airlift ratio is higher than others is due to the large condo room stock that is licensed and under used, averaging approximately 40 per cent occupancy.

‘This underscores the fact that room stock alone doesn’t bring in the arrivals. The type of room stock, price point, location and longer runway is key,’ he said.

Diverse Room Stock

Mr. Broadbelt said the CITA supports the growth of a diverse room stock to fit Cayman’s image and character including brand hotels, boutique hotels and a variety of mixed use condo developments along with traditional condo/villa and guesthouse/B&Bs.

‘Each day that the Cayman Islands remains stagnant is another day that our competition gains a competitive advantage,’ he said.

Another subtle loss to the tourism industry, he said, is the development of older condominium sites in to new seven story luxury towers that sit empty when the owners are not visiting the island.

‘Most of these properties used to be part of the licensed room stock, but since Ivan many, old and new, have slipped out of the short term rental market and remained in long term use.’

Factors contributing to this, he said, include the cost to operate in short term rentals, the need for a modified business model and, in some cases, the need for properties to be refreshed and updated to successfully compete.

‘When assessing the economic development of such properties on Seven Mile Beach, consideration should be given to those whom not only benefit the real estate and construction industry, but for those
developments that will continue to provide growth to the local tourism economy and generate ongoing Government revenues,’ Mr. Broadbelt said.

New branded hotel development is encouraged by CITA, that can complement the destination (socially, culturally, and economically), while helping to expand Cayman’s market share of 1.46 per cent (according to 2008 Caribbean Tourism Organisation statistics) in the region and add to the critical mass that will secure strong airlift from existing markets and see the introduction of new long haul service from other markets.

But Mr. Broadbelt cautioned that any strategic effort to increase room stock in the Cayman Islands will struggle to sustain viability without a 9000 ft runway and associated airlift.

In fact, just this week Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush confirmed to the Caymanian Compass that a runway extension is on the list of priorities for projects the Government is to get started on.

Longer Runway

Mr. Broadbelt said, ‘Grand Cayman has one of the shortest runways in the Caribbean [7,000 ft] for a major destination (with the exception of Belize) and the lack of a solution to this need will continue to hamper the destination’s efforts to gain airlift and break the 400,000 air arrivals threshold’.

In 2008 Cayman’s air arrivals were 302,879 and earlier this year Mr. Broadbelt said that air arrivals need to get to 400,000 in the next five years for tourism businesses to get past survival point.

Speaking about the advantages of a longer runway Mr. Broadbelt said that the immediate advantages to airlines would be that carriers could transport more cargo on their planes and can carry more fuel to and from Cayman, availing of bulk fuel prices. A longer runway would also mean less wear and tear on aircraft, thus reducing maintenance costs.

In the longer term it could lead to international long haul carriers operating into Cayman and increasing the tourist markets.