Cayman can be conference king

Grand Cayman could become a significant player in the meetings and conference travel industry.

According to Wil Pineau of the Chamber of Commerce, business travel – which can include incentive trips, pure business trips and industry conferences – is a side of tourism that might not be at first evident.

“With good planning, business conferences can attract important revenue for the country and also serves to promote our product in a unique way. The business market is often hidden from view but at the end of the day is an important one for our tourism product.

“Many other jurisdictions hold conferences throughout the year to promote themselves. In Cayman we do a couple of those kind of activities but with improved facilities we could do so much more,” he explained.

Larger hotels

There are several larger hotels on the island with the facilities and experience to handle a large group of business people, amongst them the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. General Manager Enrique Tasende has 12 years of experience in different markets, including South America, United States and the Caribbean. Indeed, the hotel reported extremely good figures during 2010 despite what is widely acknowledged as being a depressed economy in general.

“This year for us has been the highest number in the history of this hotel; the economy is down and business is low but we’re having a great year. Business customers are at a very good pace. I think part of our success is that we’re very flexible and know we need to adjust things or come up with a creative idea to run an event with a limited budget.”
It’s a nimbleness that is becoming more necessary for many hotels seeking to serve the business market. Although clients can book a year or more ahead, there have been increasing instances of shorter booking windows, said Tami Corday of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

“Particularly at this property we work primarily with incentive groups who may create an incentive for their sales team for example, so there’s a year-long programme leading up to the incentive of the trip. However, with business travel, working with a local company here bringing guests off-island it could be booked within a month and we’ve seen that reduce even for groups off-island who are booking within that one-to-three month window. That’s a new trend we’re seeing over the last couple of years.”

Complex elements

One of the conferences that is hosted at the Ritz-Carlton is the Engage wedding conference, which brings together the premier wedding planners and associated professionals working in that market. As with any conference, there are numerous and quite complex elements to consider, and Corday says that the results can boost Cayman’s economy.

“For that particular programme we worked very closely with Rebecca Grinnals [the weddings expert] who is employed by Department of Tourism, so that is an event designed to highlight the destination and bring together professionals who are ultimately decision-makers for their company to entice them to bring more business.

“A lot of planning, meetings and programming took place in advance in order to determine how best to highlight the destination but it’s never normally one single person, it’s a number of different entities working to bring the pieces together. [That includes] air travel, ground transportation, audio/visual, food and beverage components and the actual meeting content itself,” explained the hotel professional.

In addition to conference activities, delegates or attendees also may have the inclination or opportunity to get out and explore Cayman as a destination. Indeed, one of the reasons businesses choose to come here for their events is due to the leisure possibilities, explained Tasende.

“As well as the beach of course they want to go to try other places like Camana Bay, the great restaurants on the island – it’s the variety that a venue can offer. When they think Cayman Islands they can think of the beach, Stingray City, the restaurants and it’s perfect. Here, the only thing we don’t take care of is the airfare but as soon as you put a foot on the Cayman Islands until the moment you leave, business activities, rooms, restaurants, leisure activities and Stingray City trips, we can offer everything.” Other hotels said the same; the Ritz-Carlton has a specific team of individuals geared specifically to destination services.

It’s this leisure-business blend that can attract families of delegates to also spend time on-island, according to Wil Pineau. This increases the numbers to an extent that larger convention hotels may be worth looking at for the Cayman Islands.
“A lot of people [come] and ask for a special package not only for themselves but for families which suddenly turns numbers from 800 delegates to 1200 or 1300 people. It becomes more of a challenge in our market because we know that right now we have a certain limitation on the number of hotel rooms.

“It’s almost like Field of Dreams: ‘you build it and they will come’ – it’s risky for an investor but at the end of the day you really don’t know the true potential other than seeing others around you working it,” he said, pointing toward venues including Atlantis, the Shelbourne in Barbados, and others for possibilities that the market regionally can sustain.”
It would appear that Cayman has proved its spurs as being able as a destination to provide packages to attract business conventions; so much so, says Pineau, that there is talk of the feasibility of a much more ambitious facility that could be built.

“Some conferences have approached me and said they would like to hold a conference here; one required accommodations for 1500 delegates. These are the much larger conferences with specific, multi meeting room requirements. So there is potential but it comes back down that there are key components to be examined before making a decision. We’ve had discussions about a convention centre facility [in the past] and that very well could attract a whole kind of business we’ve never seen before.”