A combination of on-island events, tourism initiatives and inclement weather in key markets led to strong reported tourist arrivals in January.
According to statistics released by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, there were 26,445 air arrivals during January 2011, an increase of around 1,400 on the same time in 2010 and the highest number of visitors since 2001, when 28,953 were recorded.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman reported record occupancy driven by leisure, explained Communications Director Melissa Ladley.
“January numbers were quite strong – the perfect storm – pun intended – of brutal winter cold and snows in the Northeast [of the United States], Cayman Cookout and general demand slowly returning to pre-recession levels.
“The holiday pattern also helped as people stayed a few days later into January, so we had our highest number of leisure room nights ever.”
At Comfort Suites, Thomas Mason noted occupancy was similar to 2010, which he described as a positive indicator.
“The market held well last January, February and March; it was the summer and fall that really fell away last year. Room rate seems to be coming back slowly, but rates are still down over previous years. [We are] hopeful and it is a bit more encouraging,” said the general manager.
Paul Robinson, marketing director at The Reef, commented that it seemed likely that many hotels are in the same boat.
“Occupancies are up, but their average daily rate is down. Discounting is a way of life right now. Hopefully this will change,” said Mr. Robinson.
In the condo sector, Cayman Villas staff said rates are holding up as they have given fewer discounts so far in 2011. Length of stay is also increasing.
“Many of our rates were/are discounted anyway, so we were discounting a discounted rate last year. However, there have been many more requests this year and more bookings as a consequence; we are definitely doing better this winter, so far,” noted Penny Cumber.
Cruise figures reported for January showed 175,536 people visiting Cayman, which was over 10,000 more than the same month in 2010, representing a 6.1 per cent increase. It’s the sixth best result in the last 10 years.
For retailers, any increase in visitors simply means an increase in dollars, explained Alexandre Tabacoff of Island Companies. However, while this is welcome, there is a bigger problem, he said.
“Look at any of the cruise numbers over the last few years and the overall decreasing trend is concerning. Island Companies, and I would think many businesses, have invested in people, merchandise, stores and marketing during the growth period and have to deal with that during the decline. That’s why you have seen reductions in all those things.”
Cruise ship arrivals peaked between 2003 and 2007, averaging almost 1.8 million visitors during that span. In the three years since then, however, the average number of cruise visitors has dropped to an average of about 1.55 million. Just under 1.6 million cruise passengers visited during 2010.
Mr. Tabacoff pointed out that January’s increase in cruise visitors won’t last.
“Also, what’s more important to look at this year is not just a monthly increase in January, but the coming spring and summer months and the significant drop in cruise guests. This will be very challenging for all businesses. Because we don’t have a pier, we lose even more in the off season as we are passed over by the large year-round Caribbean ships such as Oasis-class Royal Caribbean,” he said.
The sinking of the Kittiwake has also proved popular with visitors, said Mr. Mason of Comfort Suites.
“The Kittiwake has been a resounding success. Very positive comments from the guests, who also stated that the fee to dive has not been an issue as well. This is great.”
He added that guests had enjoyed Culinary Month but felt it tended to attract guests at higher star hotels a little more.
Stephen Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers noted that in the six weeks since the sinking of the Kittiwake, there had been 3,000 visits.
“It’s exceeding our expectations; from talking to customers at dive shows in Chicago and Texas we’re definitely hearing that it’s a strong influencing factor. They are shopping around the Caribbean when they [are thinking] of coming on a dive trip. The one thing that makes them pick the Cayman Islands rather than Bonaire [for example] right now is the Kittiwake. It’s definitely moving the needle.
“From the brief time it’s been down there we are projecting at least 10,000 additional air arrivals over the year [due to the Kittiwake] and we are on target.
When you extrapolate that into what it’s worth and add room nights, flights, taxes, dive trips and restaurants that is a lot of money in the economy.
For what private and public sector has put into it, it will pay for itself in a year if not sooner,” said Mr. Broadbelt.