PANAMA CITY, Panama – With regular flight service between Grand Cayman and Panama City commencing in a little more than two months, Cayman Airways and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism are giving thousands of people attending the Expocomer trade show in Panama a preview of what the Cayman Islands has to offer.
The four-day Expocomer features some 600 booths from 30 different countries and is one of the largest annual trade shows in Latin America. The event started on Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
The Expocomer was also attended by many Cayman Islands residents who are part of the Chamber of Commerce’s fourth trade mission to Panama. Department of Tourism Marketing Manager Rosa Harris said the goal of being at the Expocomer was to promote the Cayman Islands as a destination and to increase brand awareness.
“Panama is considered a gateway to South America,” she said. “It’s a hub to other areas in Latin America.”
Mrs. Harris said that although North America will remain Cayman’s main target market, the Department of Tourism was trying to get some diversification with regard to where visitors are coming from.
“There are cities in South America that align with our target audience,” she said, giving Sao Paulo, Brazil as one example.
Mrs. Harris said the Cayman Islands booths were well received in the trade show, which is heavily geared toward manufacturers.
“I think people are intrigued to see a destination as opposed to an industry,” she said.
To help the Department of Tourism representatives communicate with the many Spanish-speaking attendees of the Expocomer, events marketing representative Annick Jackman – who speaks fluent Spanish – was also at the Cayman booth.
In addition to Cayman Airways and Department of Tourism representatives there to answer questions, Cayman’s two colourful booths featured a soundless video presentation of the Islands, several tourism and financial services industry magazines and some promotional giveaways like Cayman Airways luggage tags, Sir Turtle key rings, pens and memory sticks with preloaded information about the Cayman Islands.
The direct flight service between Grand Cayman and Panama City will commence 31 May and run through 3 November to correspond with the South American winter season. The two-hour flights will run twice weekly – on Mondays and Thursdays – with departure times of 11am from Cayman and 2pm from Panama City, said Olivia Scott Ramirez, Cayman Airway’s marketing and corporate communications manager.
Panama’s national airline, Copa, offers direct flights to many of the major Latin American countries and Cayman Airways has established an alliance with that airline to enhance its marketing efforts and to facilitate flight connectivity.
“Our flight times are set to take advantage of the many connecting flights to Central and South America,” she said.
Round trip airfares prices will start at US$299 plus taxes in economy and US$598 in business class. Mrs. Scott Ramirez said the taxes come to an addition US$92.15.
“Tickets actually went on sale on Monday,” she said.
For the time being, Cayman Airways is taking a wait-and-see approach, only committing to run the route through November. It will determine future scheduling after assessing the route’s performance.
“That’s pretty much how we approach all of our gateways,” Mrs. Scott Ramirez said.
Transshipment facility still possible
Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush, Cabinet Minister Mike Adam, MLAs Ellio Solomon and Dwayne Seymour and several other government officials paid a visit to Cayman’s booths at the Expocomer on Wednesday.
Mr. Bush said it was his second trip to Panama and that he had come previously to meet with representatives of Copa when establishing the strategic alliance with Cayman Airways.
Since he arrived in Pamana, Mr. Bush has maintained a busy schedule, starting with the Cayman Night in Panama welcome reception on Monday night.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bush took the trip to Pamana’s Caribbean port city Colon, where he toured the Colon Free Trade Zone and the nearby cruise port facility.
Mr. Bush said he still thought having a transshipment area free zone and a cruise ship home port similar to Colon would be a good thing for the Cayman Islands.
“That’s what I envisioned back in 2003,” he said. “That’s what the [now abandoned East End Seaport idea] was supposed to be.”
Mr. Bush said with the widening of the Panama Canal, bigger ships from the Far East will be coming into the Caribbean, but they won’t be going to Miami. He said Cayman would be a perfect place for them to off-load their containers for redistribution to small ships heading to a variety of port destinations.
“Cayman would have another huge industry and it would diversify the economy,” he said. “There would be tremendous revenues; tremendous possibilities for trade; tremendous opportunities for employment; and just tremendous benefits for Cayman.”
Mr. Bush also spoke about the missed opportunity to create a cruise ship home port in Cayman. He noted that the home port in Colon is attracting visitors to Panama from all over the Latin American region because many people cannot get a visa to depart on a cruise ship from the United States.
“There are tremendous amounts of wealthy people [in Central and South America] who can’t get into the US,” he said, adding these people could be departing on Caribbean cruises from Cayman if there were a home port there. Although the East End Seaport idea – which included a transshipment facility as well as a cruise ship home port – was eventually abandoned because of public objections, Mr. Bush said he hadn’t personally abandoned the idea.
“While it’s on the back burner, it’s not off my agenda,” he said, adding a suitable place for such a port facility would have to be found.