Local engagement also a priority
The annual Cayman Cookout is becoming a powerful brand in its own right.
With increased recognition of the event inevitably comes increased interest in and knowledge of the Cayman Islands.
Tami Corday, director of meetings and special events at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said that the event, now in its fifth year, was designed to support tourism.
“The cookout came about because we wanted to really pinpoint Cayman as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean. This is one of the Department of Tourism’s mandates and initiatives and we wanted to prove that we are indeed such.
“We have been very fortunate to see our numbers grow year after year and 2012’s event nearly doubled in size. As of right now, we are outpacing 2012 and we feel that the message and the buzz is getting out there,” Ms Corday said.
There is an increasing number of repeat guests to the event, she added, which began to build as soon as the first tickets went on sale on 1 October.
“It is designed to not only entice the Northeast visitor, which is [Cayman’s largest] target market, but also to give a reason to kick off high season and talk about it during the peak season. People are coming year after year and marking it as a ‘go-to’ holiday, which speaks volumes and means a lot.
“We are finding also that guests are coming from other places. Last year, we had people from Brazil and a lot from Canada’s provinces. It is widespread. One of the interesting things that we are finding is that cookout is a globally-recognised event,” she said.
Indeed, she added, at the Aspen Food & Wine show in 2010, rather than having to sell the concept of the cookout to attendees, representatives of the event found that awareness was high among the foodies present.
Key names including Anthony Bourdain, Jose Andres and curator Eric Ripert also have their own brand strength.
“Eric is very heavily involved in the selection of chefs. It’s people he has worked with, has a connection with and most importantly people he respects in the culinary world, which speaks volumes,” Ms Corday said.
Average stay during the cookout is four to five days, she said, with guests leaving their schedules open for additional activities in Grand Cayman.
“One of the intents behind cookout is to add that cultural Cayman experience to the event, so that people who are coming down for a food festival are actually getting [to see] Cayman. For example, we have a lunch event at Rum Point where guests are getting taken by Red Sail catamaran. But before lunch, there is a stop at Stingray City.
“That is a cool event and incorporates what Cayman is known for, internationally. Many also dive during their stay,” Ms Corday said.
The engagement from the local population is also growing, she said, with scope for even more involvement.
“There are still people who have not experienced the Cayman Cookout. When people partake of the events they are completely blown away by the calibre and quality of it. It really is a world-class event on your doorstep and people on the island don’t always know about that.
“This is a destination event designed to drive tourism and awareness of the culinary destination; however, we do ask specific questions in our post-event survey to our local visitors. This is an event we want people to be looking forward to coming to year after year. We have taken a lot of our local guests’ feedback into consideration in terms of how we have modified our events over the years,” she noted, adding that many people are purchasing event tickets as Christmas gifts.