Letters to the Editor: Final warning on cruisers

I would like to take this opportunity in my capacity as Premier and Minister of Tourism to address the performance of the cruise tourism industry and provide an update from the recently held FCCA meeting, which I attended along with the Director of Tourism (Ag) Mr. Shomari Scott. 

In recent months, while stay-over arrival statistics have consistently increased month over month, the Cayman Islands has continued to see a steady decline in cruise passenger arrivals. For the month of August, air arrivals registered a 

4.8 per cent increase, whereas cruise passenger statistics reflected a reduction of 31.7 per cent. Furthermore, year to date air arrivals register an increase of 7.7 per cent, while cruise arrivals reflect a decline of 9.5 per cent.  

Unfortunately, September figures maintain the same trend. 

These statistics are undoubtedly disturbing but they should not be surprising because we knew, prior to the beginning of this year, that a decline in cruise passenger arrivals was in the cards. In fact we knew this as far back as the end of my government’s last administration and even more so three to four years ago. 

We understood from as far back as those years that if we, as a country, did not get our act together and facilitate the infrastructure to accommodate the new class of cruise ships to our shores, that our cruise tourism arrivals would suffer, and suffer drastically. 

It should be recalled that during my administration of 2001-2005, I received much opposition to the development of the cruise industry and to the development of berthing facilities in particular. Cries were the loudest when we received a proposal from Signet, an overseas company, for the development of two piers, which would accommodate four ships. 

Nevertheless, I went ahead and signed an agreement with Misner Marine, a company out of Tampa, Florida, to develop two piers. This initiative was stopped by the government of 2005-2009. Due to the lack of action during this four year period, the FCCA could not wait on the Cayman Islands and moved forward with our competitors in Honduras and Jamaica and invested and built cruise facilities in those destinations instead of ours. The FCCA now has to support their significant investments in those countries while we here in the Cayman Islands, continue to lose business due to the inaction which has led to our lack of facilities. 

I can assure the public that, in light of the further decline in arrivals projected for 

2012, my government and I are fully cognizant of the need to develop cruise berthing facilities and we are working hard to secure the best deal possible for our Islands. I have started the process and I will get it done and I ask the tourism sector to support me with encouragement, rather than criticism. If criticism on these low cruise arrival numbers has to be properly placed, and if persons are intent on pointing fingers, they should be pointing toward those who opposed me and stopped the initiatives I put in place, which, had they been left to come to fruition, would have been up and operating at this time. 

Unfortunately, that is not the case and in an effort to stem the tide and increase the number of arrivals from what is currently projected, Mr. Shomari Scott and I recently attended the FCCA conference and had individual meetings with the senior executives for the major cruise lines. During those meetings, the FCCA cruise executives very pointedly iterated that cruise berthing was an essential component of their guest experience and they made it abundantly clear to the director and me that if there are any more delays and the Cayman Islands does not have berthing facilities in place by March 2013, we will continue to see a drastic reduction in our cruise numbers. This is because the older ships that do not need berthing facilities will be making fewer calls to Caribbean ports as their schedules are being changed so that they can be used to help stimulate the new emerging cruise markets, in Europe for example. 

When Cayman was part of the emerging Caribbean market many years ago, the cruise lines played a strategic role in helping to develop our cruise business by ensuring that we were a popular port of call. They were growing their market share but Cayman, on the other hand, was remaining stagnant. The director and I were dismayed to hear one of the cruise executives state that if he was asked eight years ago about the likelihood that Roatan, Honduras, would have a berthing facility and the Cayman Islands would not, he would have said the probability of that scenario would have been 2 per cent. It was even more disconcerting to witness the other cruise executives agreeing with his assessment because at that time, Cayman was a top cruise port and one of FCCA’s better partners and we were regarded as being very progressive when it came to understanding the value of cruise tourism. 

Over time we have lost that positioning and we cannot blame the cruise lines for taking the strategic decision to support other emerging destinations rather than Cayman, in order to expand their market share. Moreover, we are clearly seeing that the future of cruise tourism for the now mature Caribbean region lies in the ability to accommodate the Oasis class of ships. If Cayman cannot do so, we will continue to be bypassed and excluded from that potential cruise business. 

From the tone of the discussions, it was clearly evident that the cruise executives were giving us a final chance and were once again warning us – as they had done several years ago – that the Cayman Islands cruise tourism industry is in jeopardy. This time however, they were hopeful that we would take heed and were encouraged by my assurances that we will have at least one pier operational by 2013. In the interim, more talks are planned with the decision makers to see how we can increase arrivals prior to the completion of the berthing facility, which will not only deliver a superior experience for visitors arriving by sea, but will also represent tangible evidence of this government’s commitment to facilitating the long-term interests and sustainable growth of our cruise product. 

 

Premier McKeeva Bush 

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