Stayover numbers continue strong run

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    Air arrivals for March were the third best in 10 years.

    According to statistics released by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, 37,466 people came by air over the month, which compared favourably to the past two years, beaten only by 2008, with 38,425, and 2002 when 39,278 visited.

    Hotels reported good results in general, with some even posting record results.

    Comfort Suites enjoyed a bumper month of what they described as ‘March madness’ as the increase in air arrivals saw the hotel achieve its highest-ever occupancy in the history of the hotel for the month of March.

    “March was a terrific month, and it was very encouraging to see a spike in occupancy and also air arrivals,” said General Manager Thomas Mason.

    “It’s a good boost going into the summer, where the 
projections are not quite as rosy. It’s going to be a tough journey through the summer months for our hotel, but we have faith in the Cayman Island tourism experience and hope that things will improve,” he said.

    Paul Robinson of the Reef also said March had been a very good month.

    “I think the combination of a very rough winter in the US, coupled with the changing of spring breaks to March unquestionably helped.

    However, the late Easter affected some people’s vacations negatively, making April a slower month, he said.

    Occupancy down

    Not all tourism accommodations have seen occupancy increases.

    At the Turtle Nest Inn and Condos, Alain Beiner said occupancy at that hotel had been slightly higher than last year, but he pointed out that across the entire accommodations sector, general occupancy levels were actually down compared to the first quarter of 2010.

    That trend began in December 2010 with a 4.6 per cent drop in occupancy for hotels, while January 2011 was down to 63.8 per cent occupancy compared to the previous year’s 71.2 per cent. February was down by just over 5 per cent. Condo occupancy has been reported down as much as 5 per cent during each of those four months.

    “These figures appear to me to be quite dismal,” said the hotelier.

    “During each of these four months, the rates for both hotels and condos are significantly lower than during the same month a year ago. In fact, in March 2011 the rate is almost 10 per cent lower than in March 2010 – 72 per cent, down from 81.7 per cent.

    “I was delighted to see the reported number of air arrivals in 2011, as compared to 2010. But I can’t help wondering where these arriving passengers stayed… the explanation cannot be in a substantial increase in the number of available hotel rooms,” Mr. Beiner told the Compass.

    The total number of bedrooms reported for 2009 to 2010 was 4,563 and the number reported for 2010 to 2011 was 4,564 according to the tourism department’s statistics, collated on December 21, 2010.

    Strong month

    March is traditionally a strong month for tourism, said Trina Christian of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.

    “Spring break is always a very busy time. Some of our strongest March figures have been when Easter has been in the month, but the fact that we had a very strong March whilst Easter was not part of that is even better, which is a good sign for the industry and the economy.”

    The challenge in May and June is to target a specific group to the islands, Ms Christian said. Those are historically softer months as children are generally still in school, so initiatives like Cayman Airways’ spring deals are intended to bump up numbers. People who may visit Cayman in this period might be couples without children, for example.

    “In July and August summer tends to be fairly strong as far as families in condos and villas and the dive businesses [are concerned.] The one thing that can affect us is if there is a hurricane warning, which can affect consumer perception of travel in the summer. It’s a different customer in July in August; families come down, which is why we have promotions that revolve round the kids like Sea School and Summer Splash.”

    Mr. Robinson added that the summer was looking reasonable in terms of advance bookings virtually every month. Some of this may be down to a new focus.

    “We entered the dive market this year, and this will be our first full summer of divers. So far, we seem to be doing quite well.

    “I think most of the Cayman hotels will be watching the US economy for signs of a more rapidly improving economy. There is no question that WestJet increased the numbers of Canadian tourists. Unfortunately for us, their wholesalers chose to put their people on Seven Mile Beach. No worries, as long as everyone in tourism focuses on ‘growing the pie’, everyone benefits,” said Mr. Robinson.

    Cruise numbers for March were 190,173, which beat out the previous three years but were fifth-best in the last decade.

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    Hotels such as Turtle Nest Inn are reporting a strong March. Photo: Submitted
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