On a recent weekend (Thanksgiving) it was refreshing to see a noticeable increase in the number of visitors (tourists) to the north coast of Grand Cayman.
I was able to interact with many of these guests at several functions and casual conversations, as is customary, I am always anxious to hear their impressions of the area and Cayman in general. The first question they asked, “Why is everything for sale? I have simply run out of sensible answers and now bluntly admit to our guests that it is a case of –“let’s keep doing the same things while expecting different results”. How do we expect to attract new buyers when the impression is that everyone is leaving the area?
A few also expressed their dismay at the large power line poles and the bright red lights on the top of each. The question was asked – why not put the electric lines underground, especially since the area is mostly sandy soil? While I agreed wholeheartedly, I did not have an answer for this one.
This feedback confirms that the things some of us who live here and take for granted, our guests find to be out of context for a so-called “high end destination” and it has a serious effect on their impressions of our country and their desire to return or invest.
For many years I have been asking the Cireba officials to address the issue of the numerous for sale signs, which has cheapened the entire north coast. Today, I decided to count the signs and travelled from Morrits Tortuga to Rum Point, Kaibo Park and down Frank Sound Road. To my amazement there were 130 for sale signs on the main road, (I did not check the side roads). I also understand that the signs standing independently along the road are also in violation of the planning laws.
A couple months ago I discussed this issue with the president of Cireba and I offered a sensible solution – establish a joint Cireba/DOT information office in the area so that our guests could visit for information and those interested in real estate could view the listings and arrange viewings. In addition, I offered to assist them in finding a suitable location for such a centre. As usual, the answer – we will study it and get back in touch.
I have travelled to many “high end” destinations overseas and found the use of information centres very common; in fact in many areas it is against the town ordinance to erect a for-sale sign. As the majority of our real estate agents are from overseas one would have thought that they would be aware of this and try something new for a change.
In this time of severe economic hardships when many of us who own real estate and cater to our visitors are struggling just to survive, one would think that we (collective country) would be acting outside of the box (listening to our guests feedback) to sustain ourselves during these hard times; while working as hard as possible to improve our environment, surroundings and maintain values, (a building moratorium anyone?). Instead we keep grumbling along wishing and hoping things will get better soon; but not this time. Only by utilising new ideas and hard work will it get better.
For the past 10-plus years nothing of any substance has taken place with respect to improving the product “Cayman” and the results and statistics prove this point. Yet we keep looking for excuses as to why our market is down, instead of looking in the mirror.
To compound our problems we now have a barrage of plastics and other garbage that appears to have floated in from Haiti along the entire north coast beaches. Again, I recently asked our Government to send out a few prisoners to clean it up like we did a few years ago under the auspices of the North coast tourism council.
It was great for the inmates and well received by the community. Again, the answer was ‘we will study it and let you know’. What is there to study? Garbage is ruining our beaches and the coral reefs and we need to clean it up. In addition, we have many young North Siders out of work now and the lion fish is also invading our reefs – could it not be arranged that a small bounty be worked out to pay these young men to go out and kill these lionfish? Or is that to be studied as well?
Cayman had two assets when we started in the tourism business 50-plus years ago – friendly, hospitable, hard working and caring people and a pristine environment. For those who are still trying to decide what label to put on the jar “Cayman”, I suggest you look inside the jar as the contents are diminishing fast. Our efforts should be on fixing the product not wasting time and scare dollars on what the label should be. But the latter is so much easier than the former, so we continue with the charade.
For the real estate industry, I would like to remind them of what President Reagan told [Russian head of state Mikhail] Gorbachev about the Berlin Wall; “tear down these signs.”
Cayman has been asleep for too long regarding our tourism product; it is time we wake up before our dream turns into a real nightmare.
A North Sider