May saw the lowest number of cruise visitors to the Cayman Islands since the year 2000.
The drop had been anticipated by the industry following a relatively strong high season, said Trina Christian, Cayman Islands Tourism Association executive director.
“The writing has been on the wall for quite some time, so we are not surprised. We had anticipated cruise numbers would go down and that the forecast was heavy for high season and really low in the low season.
“It is a huge concern for our members and we recognise there are a lot of things going on; [are we building] this port, or that port, which is the right environmental design and so on. But there is a hardcore reality that we either have to get out of the cruise business or find something that is going to work in order to maintain the numbers that we need to sustain the infrastructure that we have. There has been an organic development [of businesses in George Town] based upon a certain number of cruise passengers. We need to either do something to feed that or face a harsher reality,” she said.
There were 91,909 visitors during May 2011, a drop of almost 20 per cent compared to 2010’s total of 114,504.
Premier McKeeva Bush told the Compass his government had repeatedly warned that without berthing facilities cruise numbers would continue to fall.
He said that the new, mega-class ships would not come to Cayman for a myriad of reasons which a berthing facility would solve and that the government was ‘doing everything possible’ to ensure that the project moved forward. He said there were discussions under way with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association to ensure Cayman retained ‘a decent number’ of cruise arrivals in the intervening period.
“The need for a cruise berthing facility is not a new idea. The fact is, I had started in 2005 on berthing in my previous administration and had gotten agreement from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association to do the piers with Misner Marine. This agreement was left in place for the PPM administration to continue with, but they cancelled the project and that is why we have no piers operating today.
“If that arrangement had been followed and completed, we would have a complete, functioning berthing facility operating at this point in time and as a result, we would now be seeing an increase in cruise passengers. As that did not happen, we will continue to see a decline in cruise arrivals until a cruise berthing facility is built,” revealed Mr. Bush.
Since 2005, there have been agreements in various forms with Atlantic Star, The Dart Enterprise Construction Company and GLF Corporation. Currently, the government is pursuing an agreement with a new partner, China Harbour Engineering Company.