Cayman’s tourism sector is expecting a decent high season in 2012/13 compared with previous tougher years.
Director of Tourism Shomari Scott said air arrivals continue to increase from the challenges of 2009. That year, air arrivals declined by more than 10 per cent, but 2010 and 2011 showed signs of recovery, he said.
“For 2012, air arrivals have held strong and year to date, we are registering an increase of 3.9 per cent through to September 2012. Based on the current trend, the Cayman Islands is on track to once again register 300,000 stay-over arrivals by year’s end.
“If this goal is achieved, it will be the first time in a decade that the Cayman Islands has registered 300,000 visitors over two consecutive years. To put this into context, stay-over arrivals for 2011 were the best we had seen over a 10-year span and 2012 is tracking at approximately 3 per cent over 2011 results,” Mr. Scott said.
He added that the private sector was indicating that the 2012/13 winter season is strong and bookings are steady, but further noted that Cayman may see “a little decrease”.
“The Northeast [of the United States] is a primary market during the winter season and some who may have planned to travel may have been affected by Sandy,” Mr. Scott said.
As is normally the case, many hotels have taken the opportunity to revamp their offerings. Comfort Suites has just completed a $2.5 million renovation, said Thomas Mason, general manager.
“The hotel is cranking up service and quality levels. Bookings are ahead of last year and we are very encouraged with the pick up,” he said.
Average daily rate and revenue per available room are looking good, said Laura Skec of the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.
“[These metrics] have hit historical records during 2012, it has been an outstanding year. We have seen a sustained increase of RevPAR of 40 per cent since 2009 in the year to date. We have not had rate resistance during the year, actually we have been able to solidly increase our [average daily rate] year over year,” she said.
The newly-renamed Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort and Spa is also undergoing significant renovations and Morty Valldejuli, general manager and area managing director, noted that there, too, rates are on the upswing of “anything between 8 to 10 per cent over 2011”.
“[Room rate is recovering] slower. Still very competitive not only on island, but off island competitors. Consumers are much more savvy when looking for deals and deals are out there to be had,” he said.
The booking window is still fairly short but, as Paul Robinson of theReef noted, things are getting better.
“Winter booking window has improved, but that maybe due to consumers trying to get the best airfare, which usually requires booking well in advance,” Mr. Robinson said.
Jamie Monech at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said 2012 was looking good and 2013 looked to improve even more. She said, echoing other interviewees, that in high demand periods rates had recovered to pre-recession levels. But in the slower months, competition on a regional level is fierce.
“The opportunity to increase rates is in the summer and value seasons. I think it is going to take a couple more years and because there is so much inventory in the Caribbean there is a lot of aggressive pricing out there,” she said.
On the water
Water sports is also looking at a brighter future as compared to the low years that have passed. Sarah Whitehill of Red Sail Sports said that bookings were ahead of 2011/12 and guests were planning much longer in advance.
“The dive market is bouncing back after a slow few years as we have seen our dive packages increase month on month compared to 2011. In fact, June 2012 compared to June 2011 saw a massive 46 per cent increase in pre-booked dive packages.
“We are constantly developing innovative strategies to ensure value for money as we know the recession recovery is in the early stages and travel budgets are still somewhat limited. In offering components such as a free sunset sail with dive packages or discounts on multiple bookings, these value enhancements attract new guests and maintain our customer base. We are anticipating a prosperous 2012/13 season,” she said.
Being proactive in attending travel trade shows to promote the company and the destination and adding new experiences and equipment also helped the industry stay ahead of the game, Ms Whitehill said.
The continued lack of a cruise berthing facility is still having a significant impact on that industry, Mr. Scott added.
“The berthing facility is a critical necessity and it is common knowledge that the Cayman Islands have been repeatedly advised that cruise operators will not place destinations on their itineraries that don’t have berthing facilities.
“The Cayman Islands is the only significant destination in the region without one. Most of our Western Caribbean competitors such as Honduras, Roatan, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios already have walk-on cruise facilities and our Islands are at a competitive disadvantage the longer we delay in addressing this issue,” he said.
Mr. Scott added that the establishment of the cruise berthing facility would not only ensure that the mega ships will include the Cayman Islands as a port of call, but also provide “a seamless disembarkation experience for passengers,” improving their overall experience.
“This is the kind of experiential difference that influences whether those visitors will choose to return to the Cayman Islands as stay-over guests in the future.
“The new development also promises to increase the customer experience through having such things as logical traffic flows, proper shade, signage, etc, while allowing for more time on shore [additional spend] as they don’t waste time with the [boat] tendering process.
He added that government had given its commitment that the scope of work for the berthing facility would go through a tendering process.
“[W]e remain hopeful that an agreement will be reached in the not too distant future, which will enable work to commence on the cruise berthing facility sometime in the new year.”