WB public weighs in on tourism’s future

Session gathers feedback

Not only should Cayman Islands’ tourism be marketed overseas, it should be promoted to people locally so that more Caymanians can become part of the business.

This was one of the key conclusions to come from a brainstorming public meeting in John A. Cumber Primary School West Bay Tuesday evening to discuss the future of tourism.

Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott explained that this, the first in a series of public town hall meetings, is the beginning of the process to tackle the future of tourism that will look as far ahead as 2020.

Mr. Scott said workshops had already been held within the tourism industry on the issue. ‘But we thought it was important to roll it out to the wider community so we can understand what your thoughts are. Where do you see tourism in the next four to 10 to 20 years?’ he asked.

Minister responsible for tourism McKeeva Bush, commenting on the small turnout at the meeting, said, ‘Most Caymanians don’t turn out in rainy weather and West Bay is no different.’

Tourism Strategies

Summarising the state of tourism, he said, ‘A decline in visitor numbers due to the global recession, fierce competition and a lack of agreement within the community about what the tourism product should stand for has put the Cayman Islands’ tourism industry under pressure.’

He said that a new set of tourism business development strategies are needed to address these issues and the purpose of the town hall meetings is to try to understand what the public want the tourism product to look like in the medium and in the long term.

‘We have always said we needed a shared vision for tourism and that’s what we’re attempting to do,’ he said.

Mr. Bush said that one of the problems that he has found during his time as an elected representative is that divers sees tourism as being for diving, cruise tourism is seen as just for a certain sector of people and stayover visitors feel that everything has to be done on their part.

‘Over the years people have been going in separate directions and the problem we have then is no solid forward approach over the years,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘We want strategies that are going to help develop a better product. That shared vision for tourism is a matter for all stakeholders.’

Helping the Department of Tourism in their quest to shape tourism is Yastrow & Company, business consultants from the US. Representatives Steve Yastrow gleaned feedback from people at the meeting.

Mr. Yastrow kick-started the discussion by asking attendees what makes the Cayman Islands unique and special. Answers given from the floor included the ‘Caymanian touch’, which involves being kind and nice to visitors.

‘Caymanian people are friendly and honest and you’re made feel beyond special,’ said attendee Dwight Ebanks. However, he noted that now a lot of people have come into the tourism business that only care about making money.

It was decided that some of the common threads linking the natural beauty of Cayman and its people include: being genuine, honest and having pride.

Speaking about the ‘Caymanian touch’, Mr. Yastrow asked how is the situation managed in which many people are serving visitors who are not from here – how do they get the ‘Caymanian touch’?

Attendee Loxley Banks commented that it should be mandatory for foreign workers in the service industry to go through at least 75 hours of cultural training.

Others said they wanted these workers to have knowledge of the destination and to treat guests well.

It was decided that getting those in the service industry to truly represent the brand is a worthwhile endeavour.

Attendee Paul Rivers commented that back in the old days there was indeed genuine hospitality. ‘People cam here as visitors and left as family,’ he said.

It was decided that Cayman is not as good now at creating this same experience for the visitor.

Attracting Caymanians

Introducing more Caymanians into the industry would help, the meeting heard.

On the question of how to attract more Caymanians into the business, Mr. Banks said there needs to be a dynamic syllabus in the school system to encourage this process.

Mr. Rivers said that if tourism was made more financially appealing maybe more Caymanians would enter the industry.

When asked by Mr. Yastrow if they had encouraged or discouraged their children to get into the industry some said they had because it enables an honest living to be made. Others said they don’t speak to their children about the industry because Caymanians are not getting their fair opportunity as not very many Caymanians own tourism businesses.

Attendee Kenneth Ebanks said that over the years there has been an attitude that tourism is less glamorous than other areas of work because it is seen as servitude and governments have not put enough emphasis on its importance and its opportunities.

Most at the meeting agreed that it is a very important industry and that education about it needs to be a priority in schools.

It was agreed that tourism must be marketed to the local population so more Caymanians get involved in it.

Attendee Henry Ormon complained of the recent spate of crime, saying he had expected someone from law enforcement to be at the meeting to answer questions.

‘If we’re not careful this season we could see a lot of empty [guest] rooms,’ he said.

Another suggestion from the floor was that the Cayman Islands be sold as three islands within one package with a set airfare on Cayman Airways and co-operation between hotels to allow for people to come and spend a couple of days on each island.

Others complained that with 80 per cent of visitors coming from the US it is a ‘slap in the face’ for them to have to deal with a currency that is higher in value than their own.

Another idea voiced was that attractions here need to be made more interactive and fun.

Attendees said there needs to be a follow through with regular meetings like this.

Mr. Scott said that within a few weeks the DoT will come out with its findings from the meetings and then tailor a way of moving forward.