Airlift and the experience at the cruise port are crucial for tourism, according to the Tourism Advisory Council.
“We need to bring in incremental visitors that will fill in the gap in between now and the end of the year,” said Karie Bergstrom, chairman of the advisory body.
“Winter is looking pretty good in terms of bookings and I personally feel we are finally moving in the right direction in terms of airlift. It’s been done in a manner that is more likely to succeed than what has been done in the past.
“We can go to Washington, DC, but if we’re only going there once a week it’s not going to help the visitors who are wanting to go there for a four-day or five-day vacation. The fact we’re doing it twice a week is going to help with that. Airlift is one of the critical issues,” she said.
A long-time tourism professional, Ms Bergstrom heads the council, which collectively serves as an adviser to the government’s Ministerial Council for Tourism and Development. The council also works closely with the Department of Tourism.
She said that there is no point talking about new developments and new hotels until Cayman can draw upon the right airlift to bring people in. Direct routes to and from key American gateways will attract tourists, for example, and using visitor data to analyse the most successful markets remains key.
“We can put bigger aeroplanes on the routes we already have, but if people aren’t coming through those routes and corridors there’s no amount of money you can spend on marketing and PR that will fill the seats. So you have to attack where you know the markets are.
“We’ve got the data that tells us the top markets we’re getting visitors from – why aren’t we in there with direct service? The American visitor hates Miami; if they can get on an aeroplane on a direct flight to their final destination they’re happy, and that’s where we can have a competitive advantage,” she said.
Events such as Pirates Week should assist in reaching the stated target of 300,000 visitors by the end of 2010, with further plans in place to consider events for 2011 that would help drive visitor numbers.
The advisory council was also involved with the decision to cancel Jazz Fest 2010, said Ms. Bergstrom.
“I don’t think anybody has been able to show us what kind of visitation that brought. It was certainly very well-attended, but I’d say that the majority were local residents. That doesn’t say that Jazz Fest isn’t an event that we can rethink and look at, which is what we’ve been asked to do – come up with some ideas as to what we think Jazz Fest should be going forward.
“We do need to concentrate on the areas that we know for sure [will attract visitors]. It’s nice to sit back and say, ‘Well this [new initiative] might make it work’ – but we have got to be focusing our energy on things that we know will drive visitors to the Cayman Islands. The tourism dollars have been cut, too, with government budget situations. Everybody has been hit hard by it and so we need to become more efficient. We need to be spending those dollars very wisely
Analysis of recent Department of Tourism exit surveys ha
s revealed that contrary to widespread belief, the experience of the cruise visitor is a generally positive one, though there are areas where things could be improved, said Ms Bergstrom,
“There are a lot of people that think they know what the visitor experience is without really, truly knowing. They go down there and see it at a certain time of day but the perception from the visitor is not necessarily that way. It’s probably because we don’t take into consideration their experience on the whole trip.
“One of the key things they love coming to Cayman for is that it is hassle-free. Cruise tourists also visit other islands, step off the ship and they are bombarded with people trying to sell them crafts and T-shirts – they are harassed. It is a complete hassle-free experience when they come to Cayman Islands. That is huge and I don’t think we champion that fact enough.”
The council is made up of members representing nine tourism strands that comprise the industry on Cayman. It has laid out ten priority areas to investigate: to attract and retain Caymanians in the tourism industry; airlift and airports; port development; tourism structure; beautification; tourism vision and development plan, including the sister islands; immigration and customs; safety; development policy and the possibility of tax-free concessions.
Currently the council is working on finalising roles, responsibilities and administrative aspects of its structure and is preparing to work with the Ministerial Council for Tourism and Development to address stated issues.