But hard work ahead, industry officials say
Cayman’s tourism sector welcomed improved visitor statistics, but professionals said there is much hard work ahead.
The Department of Tourism’s statistics show that cruise was up by 5.1 per cent and stayover by 6 per cent in 2010 compared to 2009, with totals of 1,597,838 for cruise and 288,272, respectively, making 2010’s figures the sixth-best in the past decade.
Rod McDowall of Red Sail Sports said the watersports and dive sectors had been flat over 2010 in general with some encouraging spikes, and that the difficult economic conditions have led to reactions from the industry.
“I think the economic recovery will be very slow and we need to continue to be creative and aggressive with our offers. Contrary to comments made by some, there have been significant cuts and aggressive discounting by all tourism sectors – accommodation, dive, et cetera.
“The early signs for the first quarter of 2011 show some improvement over last year, but we still need to get all our accommodations back on line and put some packages together now for early release to help in the summer,” said Mr. McDowall.
Markus Mueri, food and beverage representative for the Tourism Advisory Council, said the restaurant sector had also been flat, with “a deep low” in September and October.
Hotels are discounting rates and working with other businesses on-island to attract customers, said Thomas Mason of Comfort Suites.
“This seems to be what the consumer is looking for. More value at Less cost.”
Retailers welcomed the additional numbers but called for context, sasid Alexandre Tabacoff, chief executive officer of Island Companies.
“A major attention must be placed on the profile of the cruise passenger that is arriving on island. For instance, a Carnival passenger doesn’t have the same positive impact that a Royal Caribbean passenger does on our sales, and we know that this will be a major issue in 2011.
“Island Companies is expecting nominal growth in 2011, but the drop in cruise traffic over the summer months is a very concerning trend for everyone in our company. It is imperative that we have cruise berthing if we are to reverse this alarming trend,” said Mr. Tabacoff.
Cline Glidden, chairman of the Ministerial Council for Tourism, said work on the new cruise berthing facilities is expected to begin during the second quarter of 2011 and finish within 14 months. Once construction of the first pier is completed, the second phase would also be under way.
“[That] will drastically improve upon the current levels of cruise visitors, allowing us to recapture the levels we have experienced in past years.”
Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott noted that while bad weather led to cancelled flights to Cayman during December, bad weather in the north also gave a boost to the destination. The Department of Tourism worked with the Ministerial Council, the private sector and Cayman Airways on improved airlift and supplementing capacity through new services, which also assisted.
Mr. Mueri said 2011 showed signs of improvement, and the continuation of weekly summer air services by WestJet to Toronto will be important, combined with lower airfares and promotional initiatives to create attractive packages for potential visitors.
“Promotions need to be simple and approachable, and our summer and fall season will have a great chance to succeed but we have to make this decision now… the tourism industry always reacts very late. When the hotels and airplanes are empty, they start looking for some sort of a special, months too late.”
Trina Christian, executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said it is vital to look to the future now.
“One of the contributing factors is that hotels really are offering excellent deals to drive traffic to the island. We would like to believe that is a sign that things are starting to get a little bit better and that consumer confidence is up enough so that people will say that they can take that vacation rather than holding tight… it’s a good sign in difficult times.
“We should be having those conversations as a private-public sector [partnership]: Where are we going and how can we have a bigger impact on arrivals? What can we do to really make a difference as a destination?”
Mr. Glidden added that based on the Ministerial Council’s conversations with wholesalers, online travel agents and the private sector, the outlook for 2011 was promising.
And even with a struggling global economic climate and consumer confidence still to return to pre-crisis levels, Cayman will continue to make strides in the tourism industry through promotional and marketing initiatives.
“Cooperation of all stakeholders is still at the forefront in order to build on the arrivals from 2010,” he said.