Cayman can compete with other destinations, says CITA

But marketing synergy is needed

Despite not having the same
resources as bigger destinations, Cayman can still punch above its weight, but private
and public sector bodies must share information more effectively.

“We’re trying to get our own
members to be more creative with their marketing efforts; the small guy can now
compete with the big guy when it comes to marketing,” said Harry Lalli, president
of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.

“Can we compete with the dollars
being spent by Jamaica or Bahamas? I believe, yes we can… it’s smartness [and
using the Internet effectively] that will get you in there. You don’t have to
be out there spending millions and millions of dollars on TV advertising,” he

The tourism and lobbying body would
like to sit down with Department of Tourism and discuss effective use of
resources, added Mr. Lalli, whose association represents 160 tourism businesses.

“We don’t currently know where the
Department of Tourism is currently spending their money but if we did we could
look at it and recommend different areas that have worked for different

“If, for example, [an initiative]
worked for one of the hotels, we would share that information with the
department and say, listen, this thing worked and we’re not doing that [as a
destination]. But until we get that synergy [it is very difficult]. We would
like the CITA marketing committee to have a little bit more input with where
the money is being spent so that our member properties can give input.

“If something worked fantastic with
the Ritz or the Westin, let’s look at that and whether the destination couldn’t
do the same. If we do the same things, the same way, again and again, you get
the same results. Are we happy with the results we have right now? I don’t
think anybody is. Everybody would like to see the planes full and the hotels
sitting at more than 30 per cent occupancy in these [off-season] months. This
is why you have to look at what’s working.”


Government lobby

He added that going into the new
season there were several areas in which CITA would be pushing to assist in the
recovery of the tourism sector following some difficult times.

“We are pushing to make sure more
arrivals come to the islands; not having the statistics I’m not sure how
achievable [the 300,000 target] is. It doesn’t help not having the Jazz Fest to
which I would say probably 1,000 [arrivals] were directly attributable.”

Future initiatives include the
rescheduled sinking of the Kittiwake, which is still to be confirmed. Mr. Lalli
said that when it does happen, the hope is that it will revitalise the diving
industry and that significant international media attention will coincide. Culinary
Month and Taste of Cayman are also important for the upcoming higher season, he

There were some things that could
be done instantly to spruce up the tourism product at the busier time of year,
said the association president.

“In the meantime we’re still going
to lobby government to make sure that the experience at the airport can be made
better. It’s not something that will take a lot of money; it’s just a matter of
scheduling the right amount of [outgoing] immigration officers on duty.

“We’re hoping to really talk to
government to get work permit fees looked at within our industry because they
really have gone up drastically. Government said they need their revenue but
the cost of doing business [has gone up a lot,” advised the tourism professional.


Industry changed

He said that the association’s
member businesses were saying that the cost of doing business was a worry and
that the rise in the price of gas had also added to pressures. It makes diversification
of product offering difficult because available capital and cash flow is eaten
by these additional costs and banks are more reluctant to lend money and work
with businesses during the down economy.

“Traditionally, Cayman banks have
been good with lending money and working with their customers but I’ve noticed
a little bit of a change in the banking industry’s attitudes toward businesses
on-island. They’re not really looking to do any new deals and if you have an
existing deal they’re looking for security from small businesses, which was
never before a concern.”

Mr. Lalli added that he is starting
to believe that the economy and therefore the tourism industry have changed
permanently. Events in America have a significant effect on the Cayman Islands
economy, particularly in tourism, he noted.

“This is the way things are now and
in business, whether small or large, a bank or a corporation, everybody’s going
to have to accept that this is the way things seem to be going.

“The United States considered that
they were coming out of recession and they’ve fallen back into it. Cayman is
feeling the effects of that now. Will it turn around for the better in the next
couple of years? As 80 per cent of our visitors come from United States, we are
pretty much tied to there. If they are doing great, we will do great. If they
travel, we travel.”