Panama party ballooned in attendees

The size of the Cayman Islands delegation to Panama at the end of May increased significantly from what the head of the Department of Tourism had planned as of two weeks before the trip. 

On 15 May, department director Shomari Scott wrote an e-mail to Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush and senior political analyst Richard Parchment, saying, “The CIDoT nor the [Ministry of Tourism] have budget to take large delegations to pay for hotel rooms and any additional costs for a reception, etc. I was wondering what your expectation is in this regards?” 

Mr. Scott then laid out his plans for the 30 May event in Panama “for the top travel agents/wholesalers/media” to market the opening of Cayman Airways new route to Panama City, according to the e-mail, which was obtained by the Caymanian Compass through a Freedom of Information request. 

Mr. Scott said the 
department wished to invite 13 executives and government officials, 11 performers and the director of Pirates Week. He said, “25 persons will still require sizable budget; however, I wanted to ensure we could discuss.” 

According to official records, 43 people including guests ended up travelling to Panama for the launch. The trip cost the department $71,500. 

 

‘Informal communication’ 

On Thursday, Mr. Scott said, “The communication which you are referring to was an informal communication indicating that further discussion was needed with the ministry in regards to the strategy behind the launch and promotional event. 

“After further discussion took place, it was determined that particular individuals representing specific business potential to and from Panama were of vital importance to the achievement of medium to long term goals. It was therefore decided that for approximately [$70,000] a marketing promotion event could be held to a) reach persons in the travel trade, who are major influencers and represent important distribution channels for leisure travel from Panama, and b) to achieve the other goals relating to commerce and medical tourism, etc.” 

 

Expanding delegation 

According to the 15 May e-mail, the department had planned to invite two people to represent the department, five people from Mr. Bush’s government, two people from Cayman Airways, the chief officer of the ministry of tourism, two people from the chamber, a local businessman known for fostering trade relations with Panama, seven people representing Pirates Week or Batabano and five members of the Swanky Kitchen Band. 

As it turned out, the delegation actually included – in addition to the people mentioned above – an extra two people from the department, five additional people from the premier’s office or who were a “guest of government”, an extra person from the ministry of tourism, one person from the ministry of finance, a representative from the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, and seven additional members of Swanky. However, the official delegation list only specifically includes three people from Pirates Week and none from Batabano. 

The official delegation list specifies the organisations that 38 of the individuals represented, though it redacts the names of everyone except Mr. Bush, Mr. Scott and Jane Scaletta of the Tourism Association. Below the table of delegates, the record provided by the department states that 43 people were in the delegation including guests. 

 

‘Talking points’ 

In addition to the 15 May e-mail, the Compass also received a three page list of “talking points” for the premier regarding the Panama trip. The date of the talking points is 6 July – the same day that broadcast and online reports appeared regarding the cost of the trip. 

The list provides three reasons how the new Panama route economically benefits Caymanians, including giving local merchants “direct access to competitive source markets for consumables”; increasing tourism arrivals in Cayman; and giving residents “easier access to more affordable healthcare from Panama”. 

According to the document, some members of the Cayman delegation were “executives who came to discuss potential business initiatives, such as outward medical tourism opportunities”. 

According to the document, “Using Panama as an alternate location for healthcare could significantly reduce Cayman’s overseas medical costs. The services provided are of excellent standard and comparable to what is provided in the US. 

“Several Caymanians have satisfactorily received healthcare services in Panama.” 

According to the document, the department did not host a similar event when Cayman Airways’ Dallas route was launched because, “There is already awareness of the Cayman Islands in the Dallas market and therefore hosting a Cayman night event was unnecessary”; and “DoT is able to reach consumers in Texas through regular print and TV advertising”. 

According to the document, the Panama trip was worth the expense, “considering the calibre of the audience and the important role they play in ensuring the success of this route”. 

The average cost of accommodations was $388 per person; flights averaged $505 per person; and the actual “Cayman Night even cost less than $35K (and of this amount $8,975 was performance fees which would be spent in Cayman)”, according to the document. 

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