The tourism product has lost that true Caymanian experience.
That was the general consensus at the George Town public hall meeting put on by the Department of Tourism to discuss the future of tourism in Cayman.
The forum was the last in a series of district forums led by Steve Yastrow, an overseas consultant hired by the Department to help gather information.
The small group gathered inside Mary Miller Hall Thursday night expressed deep concerns about the image many visitors have of the Islands, echoing a question heard at all the meetings: ‘Where are the Caymanians?’
Attendees shared stories, reminiscing how years ago local men and women would welcome visitors and tourists into their homes with a glass of fresh juice.
Attendee Barry Solomon commented that visitors used to be greeted with a smile the minute they arrived. ‘It’s time to bring back the smile and helping hand attitude,’ he said.
It was agreed that the genuine ‘Cayman way’ they described as humble, gracious, welcoming, and friendly, is missing from the landscape.
Head and the Heart
Focusing on the lack of Caymanians in the industry, Mr. Yastrow’s question: what do expatriates in the industry need to do to get the ‘Cayman Touch’? sparked a lively debate between head and heart.
‘It starts with education,’ was the response from many of the attendees.
Ideas ranged from developing a national curriculum for all people in the tourism industry, to requiring expats in to take cultural learning courses.
Attendee Gordon Solomon commented on the responses, raising the question of what can be learned and what has to be experienced.
‘This ‘Caymanian Way’, it just cannot be taught to me, it is something you have to experience. How do we get to that place where we have that humility, that genuine hospitality?’ he asked.
Mr. Yastrow asked how to determine if a person has both the head and the heart.
Attendee Gina Matthews commented that whether or not a person is from Cayman, ‘it’s the delivery that matters, it’s the sense of pride that goes with it’.
It was decided that all workers in the tourist industry, foreigners and locals alike, must have a genuine love of what they are doing and love of the country if they are to successfully sell the Caymanian way.
Filling the void
Making the tourism industry more attractive and interesting would help fuel tourism growth, the meeting heard.
On the question of how to start with the education system in order to help children want to grow up and have a career in tourism, Ms Matthews said it is a two-pronged approach that includes addressing stigmas parents and children have of the industry, and of highlighting the career and financial opportunities within the industry.
Attendee Brian Reid said increasing the PRIDE programme’s presence within local companies would help.
Others said more needs to be done to track students through school, bringing them into the tourism industry.
Most at the meeting agreed the lack of Caymanian influence was hurting the overall tourism product. It was decided that it was everyone’s responsibility to promote and market the tourism industry throughout the community.
Mr. Solomon said there need to be more local cultural tourist attractions.
Others said a proper public transportation system needs to be in place making it easier for visitors to travel around the island and to cut down on traffic.
Another suggestion was that packages include more activities giving visitors ‘more bang for their buck’.
Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott said all the suggestions and concerns from the evening will be studied along with comments gathered from the previous forums in other districts.
The DoT is expected to release their final report within the next few weeks.