Worldwide tourism industry visits Cayman

Key industry buyers are in Cayman
discussing present and future tourism link-ups at a high-profile conference.

The 2010 Cayman Islands Tourism
Exchange, held at the Westin Casuarina, was an opportunity for local tourism
industry suppliers to meet with travel wholesalers from throughout the world.
It opened on Thursday with speeches from representatives of the government and
private sector, during which the current status of the industry and future
developments were highlighted.

Assembled delegates were given a
presentation from Julianna O’Connor-Connolly, who touched on a number of key
issues and topics du jour.

Throughout the Caribbean, she
began, the tourism industry was one of the largest employers and the largest
contributor to the gross domestic product of many islands. Specifically, the
tourism industry on Cayman is geared to providing a distinct, high quality
experience that attracts 270,000 air arrivals and 1.5 million cruise passengers
per year.

“The sustainability of our
hospitality industry remains a top priority of our government and we have been
working hard to continually develop our existing product and infrastructure
while at the same time attracting new opportunities to our shore,” she said,
noting that whilst Cayman was internationally-known for financial services,
attracting new inward investment was a priority.

Cruise berthing

The planned cruise berthing
facility was much-needed, explained Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly, and the memorandum
of understanding between the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands, the government
and DECCO had been signed accordingly.

There will be two berthing fingers,
she said, of which at least one will be able to accommodate Royal Caribbean’s
giant Oasis-class ships, which cannot currently service Cayman due to their
size and the unfeasibility of tendering a ship of 5,600 passengers.

“It is a critical and necessary
infrastructural development as we have been repeatedly advised that these ships
will not place our destination on their itinerary if the berthing facilities
are not in place. Indeed. we are very cognisant that the Cayman Islands is the
only significant destination within the region without [them].

“Most of our Western Caribbean
competitors such as Roatan, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios already have walk-on
cruise facilities and the longer the delay is in addressing this most important
issue, [the longer] our islands are at a competitive disadvantage,” she said.

Acting Director of Tourism Shomari
Scott added that the government’s intent was to open the facility in October
2012.

Medical tourism

Another subject on the agenda was
the recent announcement of the $2 billion Narayana Cayman University Medical
Center to be established in stages by Dr. Devy Shetty.

Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly said that on
a general level the medical tourism industry has been growing rapidly in recent
years and that after receiving medical treatment patients typically took an
extended vacation to recuperate, often joined by their families.

“It is our intention to position
ourselves to be ahead of the curve and ahead of our competitors in this Caribbean
region.

“Strategically expanding into such
non-traditional areas such as medical tourism is a deliberate attempt on our
part to provide a measure of resilience to this all-important second pillar of
our economy.” she told delegates, adding that tourism is vulnerable to impact
from external forces such as the economic downturn, the H1N1 virus and recent
activity of the Icelandic volcano.

Mr. Scott added that part of the $2
billion project was a governmental intent to assess the infrastructural
implications of the 500-acre project, such as increasing airlift and associated
property development plus other associated benefits to the economy.

Air arrivals

Public and private bodies were
working together to develop and implement programmes to stimulate the tourism
industry and all concurred that new opportunities needed to be explored such as
the development of new niche markets. Increasing air arrivals was always on the
agenda, explained Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly.

“From a strategic perspective it is
all well and good to say that we are increasing air arrivals but in order to
actually increase arrivals it is generally accepted that airlines must entice
all who [have] a vested interest to provide the connections that underpin
increased airlift.

“While negotiations are ongoing
with other airlines in this regard I am delighted to say that Delta Airlines
has confirmed its intention to introduce non-stop service to Cayman from New
York JFK this June,” she said.

The service runs once a week, every
Saturday, continued the minister, and is timed in order to allow European
connections as well as complementing Cayman Airways’ own non-stop service.

Shomari Scott echoed Mrs.
O’Connor-Connolly’s words, noting that there were now direct flights from Miami
to Cayman Brac. He said that it was now also possible to island hop, with a
one-day excursion between Grand Cayman and the Brac that also included a tour,
lunch and transportation.

Innovations and schemes

Mr. Scott said that there were
several innovations in progress to impact on the tourism industry.

These include an ongoing
development of an online facility that will allow all hoteliers, condos and
guest houses to put their inventory online. This would help smaller facilities
to open distribution channels more efficiently, said Mr. Scott.

Other new initiatives and
developments that Cayman had to offer include the Motor Museum, the Ramada
Resort, Jetski Fishing, Tiki Beach and the Green Parrot Bar and Grill, he said.

Training tourism workers under the
PRIDE scheme was essential to increase customer service, said the acting
director, who cited the maxim that often people would pay twice the price for
three times the service. Customer service should include cultural workshops too
in order to enhance the visitor experience.

Delegates also heard about green
issues and Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly said that the Green Globes initiative and the
Cayman Islands Environmental Project for the Tourism Sector were a part of strategy.
She said she hoped that the Cayman Islands would be known for its commitment to
sustainable environmental development.

Shomari Scott said that several
properties were already Green Globe-certified under Phase 1 and elaborated that
Phase 2 of the Green Globes scheme would involve the implementation of environmental
initiatives from private sector partners.

“We’re going to have blue flag
certification for Barcadere marina, and destination certification for Little
Cayman. We want it to be the first island that’s fully Green Globe-certified
and we’re on our way and putting everything in place to make that happen,” he
said.

Companies attending this year
included Classic Vacations, Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz Worldwide. Local
resorts, hotels and condos also had booths at the tradeshow and conducted a
series of meetings to discuss possible linkups throughout Thursday, before
being updated on the status of the Kittiwake sinking over lunch.

Friday’s activities included trips
to the Brac, tours of Stingray City and the mangroves and an opportunity to
discover the island by jeep, giving the wholesalers the opportunity to
experience Cayman for themselves and to make site inspections of the properties,
trips and tours that they sell in their travel packages worldwide.

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