Tourism numbers end year positively

Stay-over tourism numbers continued
their upward trend in December when compared to the previous year’s statistics
for the month, even if the figures for the entire year were down from 2008.

According to the latest statistics
released by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, December arrivals by air
were 29,565, up five per cent over December of 2008. It was the second
consecutive month air arrivals outpaced the same month the previous year
following a 14-month period where the numbers were lower than the previous
year.

However, for the year, stay-over
tourism figures were 271,958, down a little more than 10 per cent from the
302,879 that visited by air in 2008

Air arrivals have fluctuated
throughout the decade which began with 2000 returning a total of 354,087. That
figure was the highest recorded for the decade. The lowest was 2005, the year
following Hurricane Ivan, when 167,801 arrived by air.

Cruise arrivals

Cruise arrivals in December were
158,522, slightly down from the 163,725 that visited in December 2008.

The yearly figure for cruise
arrivals ended at 1,520,372. This compares to 2008’s total of 1,553,053. Although
cruise arrival figures have been falling since they peaked at 1.92 million in
2006, they still represent an increase of nearly half a million passengers when
compared with 2000’s figure of 1,030,857, the lowest of the decade.

Group bookings

According to Trina Christian of
Cayman Islands Tourism Association, one of the factors in the upswing of recent
months is a pick-up in group bookings at Cayman hotels.

“That was one of the areas in which
we took a real hit last year,” she said. “The downturn in the economy was
coupled with companies not wanting to be seen to be spending money. The fact
that this has picked up has really helped us, which is reflected in the numbers
for December.”

Slowdown

The first quarter of 2009 showed a
significant downturn in arrivals, but the year-on-year differences slowed
considerably during the second and third quarters of last year. The decrease of
around 60,000 visitors in total – split more or less exactly into a drop of 30,000
arrivals each by air and by cruise ships – is a statistic that can be read in
two different ways, said Miss Christian.

“Although it’s not a tremendous
drop over the whole year, because we are a small destination that relies on
less arrivals in general than other destinations, it’s a real fine line for
businesses.

“When we look at what we are
striving to do as a destination, what we need as a market share to be much more
successful is a very small percentage compared to the market share that the
Caribbean has as a whole.”

Target

Miss Christian said that CITA have
‘crunched some numbers’ and the government has also agreed that over the next
five years, the target is 400,000 arrivals by air. It is a figure that could be
absorbed comfortably by existing room stock and infrastructure, she noted.

“For the businesses available to be
sustainable and to be making a profit, we would like to see the occupancy
levels increase. That’s without having to pour any more concrete.”
The projections were made prior to the Courtyard Marriott’s, demise but even
with new room stock coming online in the future, Miss Christian said that the
room stock increase would be marginal. Gaining more hotel brands that the consumer
would be aware of was also important, she remarked.

Hopeful

Overall, 2009’s decrease in numbers
was a lot better than the first few months had indicated, said Miss Christian.
Although the recent upturn in numbers was pleasing, the onus is now on the
public and private sector to move quickly in developing and increasing their
media and marketing presence.

“We should be pleased with the fact
that the decrease could have been worse, but we need to really be on top of it.

“We’re hopeful that during the
first quarter we will see some additional increases compared to last year, but
we really need to keep on our toes as a destination and do whatever it takes to
increase our presence in the media and marketplace.”

Innovations

Innovations in viral marketing,
social media and other participative, interactive techniques were very helpful,
explained Miss Christian, who said that CITA members had online presence that
needed to be maximised and all activity would be very helpful in enhancing the
messages presented.

“All businesses in Cayman Islands are in the tourism business and this is
the time to get the message out there through their own channels as well. The
only way we can maximise our presence is for people to engage in their own
media strategies as well,” she said.

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