Arrival statistics still improving

Tourism arrivals are continuing on
their upward crawl, according to latest arrival statistics released by the
Department of Tourism.

Total air arrivals in January 2010
reached 25,006 – an increase of 1,500 on January 2009’s stats.

Of those, 19,562 came from the USA, 2,472 from Canada
and 1,831 from Europe. 1,141 originated in
other destinations.

The figure continued the upward
trend that began in November 2009, based on direct year-on-year comparisons per
month. It represents a 6.8 per cent increase of air arrivals.

The 25,000 mark was previously
broken in 2008, 2004, 2000 and 2001. The latter was the highest-performing year
of the decade with 28,953 air visitors.

Cruise numbers up

Cruise numbers also increased in
January 2010 compared to the same time 12 months previously. This year, 165,378
came by cruise ship, an increase of nearly 4,000 on the 161,657 that arrived in
January 2009. That’s an increase of 2.3 per cent.

Cruise arrivals in January were
highest in 2004, 2006 and 2007, when over 200,000 visited the Island. 2007 was
busiest with 224,880 tourists. This year’s arrival numbers are the third worst
performance in the last 10 years, beating out 2001,2002 and last year.

Cruise arrival statistics are
derived from on-board passengers rather than visitors who have disembarked.

Higher visitors leads to higher
on-shore spend, said Alexandre Tabacoff, chief executive officer of Island
Companies.

“The increase of cruise traffic in
January 2010 had a very positive impact on Island Companies Ltd sales. We also
measure our performance in dollars spent per passenger and noticed an
improvement compare to the same period in 2009 thanks to our merchandising and
marketing initiatives. This data is extremely encouraging and rewards ICL staff
efforts.”

When the weather is inclement,
cruise ships are diverted to Spotts Bay, which Mr. Tabacoff said had an inevitable
effect on George Town
businesses.

“When ships go to Spotts it
negatively hurts our sales, and some actions should be taken to improve the
tourist’s experience at Spotts, which would certainly impact positively on
general sales,” he explained.

Hotel occupancy

Estimated hotel and apartment
occupancy rates were also released by the Department of Tourism. Their figures
indicated that January 2010 posted a 70.9 per cent occupancy figure for hotels
and 45.5 per cent of apartment stock available. Apartments include all
non-hotel properties including condos, villas, cottage colonies, guesthouses
and bed and breakfasts.

This is the highest percentage of
rooms estimated to have been filled since 1999, when 77.9 per cent of rooms
were booked out. In January last year, 62.8 per cent of rooms were filled and
48.1 per cent of apartments were booked. The apartment occupancy figure is the
fifth-best January performance in the last 10 years. 2008 performed the best
with 52.5 per cent of apartments filled during January.

However, length of stay was down
from 4.6 days in hotels in January 2009 to 4.3 days in January 2010. This is
the shortest average estimated stay since the beginning of the statistics
available in January 1998.

Apartment occupancy on the other
hand was up to 7.3 days, an increase of 0.1 days compared to January 2009, and
0.3 days compared to 2008. Longest estimated apartment stays for January were
in 2000 and 2001 when 7.9 days was the norm. More recently, people stayed in
apartments for 7.7 days in 2007.

Melissa Ladley of The Ritz-Carlton,
Grand Cayman said that the figures looked to be marginally-improving, partly
due to the intense weather conditions elsewhere.

“While booking windows are still
incredibly short, pickup is strong. It’s too early to state a trend, but this
increased activity catalyzed by the bitter winter could be a harbinger for
increased numbers for subsequent months in 2010,” she said.

Presentation

At the Caribbean Hotel Resort &
Investment Summit this month in Miami, occupancy figures across the Caribbean were
discussed during a presentation by Mark Lomanno, president of Smith Travel Research
and STR Global.

He noted that occupancy during 2009
in the Cayman Islands was down by 5.8 per cent
compared to 2008, with average daily rate costing visitors 8.8 per cent less. Average
daily rate in Cayman Islands dollars was $228.20,
according to STR figures.

Discounted room rates, said Mr.
Lomanno, made budgets and forecasts impossible to manage and risked
‘cannibalising existing businesses and damage to brand’.

He noted that in a buoyant
marketplace the tendency was for everyone to follow best market practices.
However, when things were tough ‘everyone follows the first person to panic.’

Decisions therefore were in danger
of being based on the actions of competitors rather than specific strategic
initiatives and relevant revenue needs of properties.

“Discounting often doubles up the
loss of occupancy and rate. Profitability is often overlooked and can be
adversely affected by reductions. Markets take years to recover,” he warned.

He concluded that average daily
rate was close to bottoming out, that room demand had already hit a low and was
heading back up but the turnaround would be slow with only marginal improvement
scheduled for 2010. Decline, he said, was global across all sectors so it was
key to create value and maximise customer experiences through change in the
mix.

Optimistic

Shomari Scott, acting director of
Tourism, struck an optimistic note in the light of the figures.

“Given that air arrivals have
increased by 6.8 per cent when comparing January 2010 to 2009, the subsequent
increase in hotel occupancy from 62.8 in January 2009 to 70.9 [this year] is
not unexpected, and is an indication that consumer confidence is slowly and
cautiously returning.”

Mr. Scott said that the Department
of Tourism also acknowledged that occupancy rate for apartments over the same
period had registered a decrease.

He said that while his department
was not directly responsible for the marketing of apartments and condo properties,
they ‘continue to aggressively market the Cayman Islands as a destination to
prospective travellers particularly in the US, UK  and Canada.’

He told the Caymanian Compass that
the public-private Get Warm collaborative promotion had achieved its objective
of driving visitors to the island over the winter season, and pointed to the
forthcoming Summer Splash / Sponge Bob Square Pants promotion as an initiative
that specifically targeted families.

“The Department is hopeful that the
Summer Promotion will assist in driving visitors to the smaller properties and
apartments as well as to hotels on the Island,”
he added.  

BUZArrivalstatsSTORY

Rough weather in George Town can pose a problem to cruise ship passengers and tenders.
Photo: File
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