Boatswains ‘missing business plan’

The former head of Boatswains Beach told the Legislative Assembly last week that certain parts of the expanded tourism facility are simply not sustainable and advised lawmakers to close those sections down.

Boatswains’ ex-Managing Director Joey Ebanks told members of the Public Accounts Committee that the salt water lagoon attraction was now so choked with algae that visitors didn’t want to enter it.

‘We were unable to keep (the salt water lagoon) clean and I doubt we ever will,’ Mr. Ebanks said. ‘It is truly just not viable.’

Committee members questioned why the government would want to keep such an attraction open since real-life salt water snorkelling and diving is readily available to the public all over the Cayman Islands. Members suggested rather that Boatswains increase the size of its fresh-water pool which visitors seem to enjoy and use more often.

‘No one wants to swim with the fish because of the algae,’ Mr. Ebanks said.

Mr. Ebanks revealed publicly for the first time during the committee’s hearing that Boatswains had received a proposal to open a water park on site last year.

According to the former managing director, three separate companies were in touch with the West Bay tourism attraction about developing businesses there. One group from Norway wanted to open water slides, and owners of the Cayman Islands Butterfly Farm were looking at moving into the Boatswain’s aviary.

The Butterfly Farm never moved and eventually shut down at its location off West Bay Road. The water park proposal never went beyond the discussion stage, according to Mr. Ebanks.

‘We could not stop the bleeding,’ Mr. Ebanks said, referring to Boatswains Beach operating losses. ‘Some of these proposals would literally reduce government liability…to the Turtle Farm.’

At one point in 2007, Boatswains was losing about CI$650,000 per month. By the spring of the following year, those losses had dropped to around $330,000 per month, Mr. Ebanks said.

Between 2004 and 2008, according to government budget figures, the Cayman Islands poured some $20 million into Boatswains Beach operating losses – not counting the loans government had secured on the facility’s behalf.

Mr. Ebanks said, prior to Boatswains Beach opening, the Cayman Turtle Farm usually managed to turn a small profit. The Turtle Farm is the side of the facility that raises turtles, sells turtle meat and occasional releases juvenile turtles back into the wild to boost the population of the endangered creatures.

Boatswains Beach contains all the other attractions, including a fresh water and salt water pool, a shark tank, the historic Cayman Street, an aviary, a restaurant and a bar.

Mr. Ebanks estimated that 80 per cent of the revenues come from the Turtle Farm operation, while 80 per cent of the costs come from the Boatswains Beach side.

The former managing director said he still felt there was a chance to create a ‘tourism destination’ along North West Point Road in West Bay, with the Turtle Farm, Boatswain’s Beach, the dolphinarium across the street, and Andres Ugland’s antique auto shop and boutique hotel nearby.

‘We could create a whole new tourism destination in West Bay,’ he said.

Mr. Ebanks said the Turtle Farm still draws approximately 400,000 visitors per year, but the entry price is still prohibitive for a facility designed to welcome a large volume of visitors.

‘The key missing piece was the business plan. There wasn’t a clear strategy. It has to be a public-private partnership moving forward.’