Top Stories of 2012: More flights, fewer cruisers

Cayman repositioned as culinary capital

January in the tourism industry began with two cornerstone Culinary Month events. 

The Cayman Cookout, featuring international chefs, and Taste of Cayman, which showcases local restaurants, drew thousands of visitors to the Island. In the case of the latter, it was later reported that with 5,000 visitors it was the best Taste of Cayman ever. However, a sour note was struck with the subsequent hospitalisation of several attendees with apparent food poisoning. Organisers the Cayman Islands Tourism Association said that measures would be put in place to ensure the incident never happened again. 

Later in the year, the Department of Tourism announced that rather than promoting January/February as Culinary Month, the breadth of epicurean options and events throughout the year meant that as of 2013, Cayman would instead promote itself as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean. 

Airlift continued to be a big story for 2012. First, in January it was reported that Air Panama had applied to service Cayman twice-weekly and concurrently Cayman Airways revealed it was also in discussion for twice-weekly seasonal service to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. The long-standing desire to service Panama was due to it being a key gateway to attracting South American visitors and business. 

Similarly, seasonal operations to Dallas, Texas were being discussed. The Panama service began in May with a large delegation from Cayman going over on 30 May for a special event to market the opening of the route. Some 43 guests ended up travelling, costing the Department of Tourism $71,500, which Shomari Scott, director of tourism, later explained. 

“[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.” 

Meanwhile, the Dallas route proved so successful that it was subsequently extended throughout the year rather than just the summer months. The future of the Panama route was, at the time of writing, unclear. 

Further good news for the tourism industry was the arrival of JetBlue, the American carrier, which began services to and from New York and Boston in November. Those two markets were the top and fourth-highest sources for Cayman visitation. 

Cruise struggles 

Cruise tourism numbers continued to worry the industry throughout 2012.  

With redeployments of ships plus the continued uncertainty over a potential deal to build a cruise berthing facility with China Harbour Engineering Company, stakeholders faced declining numbers toward the end of 2012. It was later revealed in a report that in fact between December 2011 and May 2012, the Cayman Islands experienced the fourth highest cruise spending per passenger and crew of any Caribbean destination.  

The Business Research and Economic Advisors Cruise Analysis 2012 surveyed 21 Caribbean destinations and found that total direct cruise expenditures of the industry in Cayman from the industry was $158 million, the fifth highest in the Caribbean. This equated to the creation of 3,547 local jobs, generating $66.6 million in wage income, which averaged out at an annual wage of $19,000 for each worker. Each $1 million in direct cruise expenditure led to the creation of 22 jobs. 

Hotel sector changes 

Hotels that underwent refurbishment included the Westin Casuarina, which also rebranded as Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort and Spa, the Comfort Suites and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, which was also in the news for a change in ultimate ownership. 

On a brighter note, Cayman hosted once more the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame during November, honouring the industry’s key figures, then the Underwater Film Festival. Accolades continued to pour in for the destination, with the November HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, which surveyed 5,339 expatriates in almost 100 countries between May and June, naming Cayman “the friendliest country in the world”. 

“We’ve won previous accolades from tourism entities on being the friendliest island. To gain the exposure of being the Friendliest Country in the World … takes our Islands to the next level of recognition,” said Jane van der Bol of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.