Caribbean tourism on the up

Industry feeling positive about Cayman

 

The Caribbean is expecting a big
improvement in 2011 and Cayman is making good ground within the sector,
according to professionals.

Private and public sector
representatives of Cayman who attended the Caribbean Marketplace industry
conference in Montego Bay reported that, whilst not buoyant, the sector is
showing signs of positive growth. The atmosphere at the event, which brings
together private and public sector tourism businesses from the Caribbean and
worldwide, was positive, according to Jaime Moench of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand
Cayman.

“It was fascinating; last year the
conference was a little depressing in some cases but this year, even for the
wholesalers, there was not as much talk about fifth night [free] or value add
but how much [business] we could gain and where we could get it from.

“There was a much more pleasant
atmosphere as everyone is doing better this year. Six months ago, 2011 looked
better than 2010 but now things are really starting to shape up,” said Ms
Moench.

Shomari Scott, acting director of
tourism, said the conference had a pleasant atmosphere and the winter season is
looking pretty good.

“Wholesalers across the board,
whether online travel agents, traditional or airline wholesalers, stated that
Cayman Islands tracked very well [during 2010], some 15 to 20 per cent
[increase on 2009] in room nights, revenues and passengers. This year, the
booking window has begun to creep back up and on the books this year compared
to last year we’re looking at trending up between 10 and 20 per cent as well.”

In a wider context, he said that
2008 had been a good year for Cayman but toward the end of the year the
economic tsunami hit.

“It’s cyclical; you trend up and
then economic events give you a bit of a dip but we’re back on that curve
trending back upwards to where we want to be. In 2011, if all projections hold
steady, hopefully we will reach and surpass the 300,000 mark [for air
visitors].”

 

Price competition

Paul Robinson marketing director at
the Reef, said the general consensus is that although 2011 is not going to be a
boom year, most of the wholesalers and the online travel agents said Cayman’s
share would increase slightly.

“Their booking windows are short;
there seems to be some discussions about April. Easter is so late this year but
April does not seem to be moving much for [the wholesalers and online travel
agents]. Maybe that’s because people assume Easter is over at the end of March
and it no longer has that magic date as to when the winter season ends and the
summer season starts.”
Mr. Robinson said the conference had reiterated that demand for the tourist dollar
was resulting in an uneven market with some sobering statistics.

“Price competition in the
marketplace is more ferocious than I have ever seen; you’re talking package
tours available out of Chicago to Mexico for four nights at an all-inclusive,
four-star resort, beach front, including airfare, for $399. I don’t think you
can fly a round trip [from Cayman] to Miami for $350 so that gives you an idea
of the disparity in pricing.”

 

Shedding a reputation

However, there was also the sense
the Cayman Islands is showing signs of shedding its reputation as an
unaffordable destination, added Maria Laura Skec of the Marriott Beach Resort.

“Slowly we are breaking this myth
that it’s expensive; that Cayman is exclusive. Cayman is a unique island in the
Caribbean and there are a lot of alternatives. You can come here and there are
very expensive places to eat, for example, but then there are those that are
affordable. There are also times of the year that have lower rates in low
season which can capture that market.

“Once you get people to come down
here they fall in love and they will come back again. If you travel around the
Caribbean and look at the price of excursions, we are the same if not less
expensive. I spent a couple of days in Aruba and it was actually more expensive
than here. When you travel you get these facts and then when you sell [a
destination] you take this information with you.”

 

Understanding the message

Mr. Scott said that this was
indicative that a growing understanding of the costs of visiting Cayman were
getting through to potential visitors.

“There has always been that
perception, but when we did a price comparison we realised we are not the most
expensive. The one thing that was good from the financial tsunami, when value
became the order of the day, you had to more overtly put out your message
points about value for spending and by getting those messages out,

“Even though we have always had a
decent price point, people did not understand it, aside from those who came
year after year. People who thought we cost too much or weren’t value for money
have now put us in their consideration set when they are deciding whether to go
to Aruba, Barbados, Anguila and so on.”

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