The sinking of the ex-USS Kittiwake marked the culmination of a long-term project which was always intended to boost the dive product and therefore the tourism industry of the Cayman Islands.
It was originally mooted in the early years of the new millennium as a possible first step towards creating a multi-wreck site that could be called Shipwreck City, a concept that quickly coalesced into the complex negotiations required to identify and then take possession of the first ever ship to ever be handed over by the United States government’s MARAD to a foreign government for the purposes of artificial reefing.
Harry Lalli, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, commented following the sinking, on Wednesday, 5 January, 2011, that it was a significant moment for the Cayman Islands.
“It’s definitely putting Cayman back on the map; there will be great international press coverage, particularly in the diving world. They’re very, very excited about it and from a diver’s perspective people are definitely going to dive it. For those who haven’t dived for a while it gives them something new to do, too. So from a tourist perspective and also the local market it will bring a lot of interest back .
“The ship will slowly develop sealife and slowly build an artificial reef which will definitely, for sure, bring many more people here over the years to come,” said Lalli.
Rod MacDowall of Red Sail Sports expressed his excitement at the development.
“It’s fabulous; exciting new diving product which is going to be nothing but great for the diving and tourism industry. It’s great for snorkelling, it’s great for cruise, it’s great for stayover.
“It is a shot in the arm and gives us the opportunity to get lots and lots of great PR to put us back to number one in the Caribbean as we have been [previously] and still should be. There’s nothing but up sides to this. From the vision eight years ago when people started talking about the concept to now it’s been a long while but it has been a journey well-worth the effort and it’s good for everybody on the island,” said the watersports expert.
The Cayman Islands was represented by many dive and watersports-related businesses in the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association show held at Las Vegas during November. Those who attended reported intense interest in the project from dive shops, clients and wholesalers who intended to add Kittiwake dives to their packages on offer for 2011. At the time, project leader Nancy Easterbrook explained that at DEMA the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, herself and Steve Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers had given daily presentations on the destination and the Kittiwake. That attracted attendances of 15 to 20 dive shops per day, which is considered a good attendance.
“We gave an update on the islands, new attractions, new properties that have come online and a list of what non-divers can do plus a presentation on Kittiwake, the history and how people can use that as an additional tool to talk to their clients about coming back to Cayman Islands,” said Easterbrook, who added that Cayman was now considered a mature dive destination and therefore new sites and initiatives were always welcomed by the industry.
Cline Glidden of the Ministerial Council for Tourism said that it was a joint effort between the public and private sectors that had taken a lot of time, commitment, dedication and money.
“It’s great that we have a new dive site; the marine element is very important to the Cayman Islands as it is a big part of our heritage. I’m excited about getting a chance to dive it as soon as possible.
“When we are faced with the challenges of the worldwide economy we have to continue to be competitive and do things that continue to allow Cayman to stand out. I look at some of the blogs online and people are excited about their trip to dive in Cayman; talking to experienced divers, [they tell me] that artificial reefs get better in time [as the sealife populates it]. People look forward to coming back in subsequent years to dive again as it has more marine life,” he said.
Whilst it is a dive attraction, there are associated industries who will also benefit greatly from the Kittiwake, concluded Harry Lalli.
“When people come down to Cayman Islands to dive or snorkel [it affects many sectors] right from the hotels, the condos, the restaurants, taxi drivers, airlines flying into here, departure tax for the government. It’s a win-win and keeps the tourism economy going.
“If one person comes here to dive they’re probably going to spend four days to a week so everybody in the tourism industry, including government, will benefit from this brand new attraction for the Cayman Islands,” said the tourism association president.