Festivals and events can draw visitors and create media buzz

 Attracting tourists to the Cayman Islands is a complex blend of marketing, advertising and events designed to present the destination’s heart and heritage. These events can give Cayman a reach into social media and put the destination into the minds of people who may not have thought of visiting before.

“There are many different aspects that these events help when it comes to tourism, including driving visitor numbers from specific gateways depending on the festival,” said Director of Tourism, Shomari Scott.

“For instance, Pirates Week has always been placed during the off-season to try and increase the numbers of visitors. Over the past two years we have seen some good, marginal increases in arrivals specific for Pirates Week. Our visitor surveys tell us that and also show that it is seen as a value for money proposition as a lot of the activities are free.”

One specific niche increase has been seen in Pirate Krewes from other destinations travelling to Cayman.

“It makes sense that instead of trying to attract only general visitors, you target those that are already travelling for pleasure [to other Pirate-themed festivals across the United States and Caribbean]. Cayman Airways actually had to put on an extra section from Tampa in 2012 due to this. The Pirates Week office and the Department of Tourism are working together to bring even more down in October this year.

“It works because they want to travel and they also partake in the festival, which enhances it.”

High season events can enhance visitors’ experiences whilst on Island whilst not necessarily increasing visitation, whether government or private sector-led. However, word of mouth is a powerful tool in raising awareness of a destination and Mr. Scott said that whilst in the past that may have been ten to 15 close friends, in the advent of social media the potential reach of information is now in the thousands.

“Using the Cayman Cookout as another example, this is a partnership with Ritz-Carlton that has expanded to include other restaurants in our quest to be Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.

“It makes sense for our demographic. Our customers are foodies that like to have great experiences and the Cookout aligns well with that lifestyle and customer base so we come to the top when it comes to the decision making process of where they may vacation where they may not have previously thought of Cayman,” he noted.
The Cookout falls on a weekend that is traditionally a little slower within the high season itself and was placed specifically to give visitation a little assistance.

Reaching the right audience

The concept of media reach is also very important, Mr. Scott continued.

“In 2013, there were 46 articles written specifically about the Cookout, which meant a circulation of 13.9 million. In ad equivalency [the advertising cost for a similar space] that was US$2.3 million.

“We have reached all those eyes from that event. This year we also had an intense campaign and strategy behind social media. In 2012, we had a reach of 2.6 million people on Twitter and that reached 31.7 million in social media in 2013.”

Mr. Scott also said that ‘positive sentiment’ had increased on Twitter by over 500 per cent. Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert also tweeted about the event to their own followers, all of which helped to send pictures and videos of this aspirational vacation event to a very wide audience.The Cookout also showcases the quality of the Cayman Islands’ restaurant scene, he said, which was also a selling point to the demographic.

Jane van der Bol of the private sector Cayman Islands Tourism Association added that events were important to differentiate the destination from other Caribbean islands.
“Tourism is an industry that is extremely competitive and for destinations such as Cayman to remain a top choice of travellers, we need to offer a diverse product and exciting product. Something that will attract travellers in a truly unique and engaging way, and that special attraction is festivals. Festivals are inspired around food, music, religion, tradition, nature and history,” she explained.

“Every festival holds something unique for the traveller and offer a rich experience. Bringing the concept of experiential travel to life in way that are deeply touching, memorable and inspiring. The Cayman Islands has a wonderful lineup of festivals throughout the year from Taste of Cayman in spring to Batabano in summer and Pirates Week in the autumn. All totally unique and brings tourism dollars to the Cayman Islands.”

Of course, with the best will in the world, macroeconomics can also have an impact on the delivery of unique events. Jazz Fest, which last took place in 2009, is an example of something that has not been held due to economic conditions.

“You always have short term goals as well as medium term goals,” said Mr. Scott.
“It was in its fifth year; we had always said it would take that time to achieve its goals in ad equivalency and social media reach and where we saw visitors travelling in droves for it. But the economic tsunami happened and at that time we had to cut budgets. Tough decisions were made and Jazz Fest was a casualty,” he explained.
The Department of Tourism works with the immigration department, which begins once they know which headlining chefs and wine experts will be attending the event, or performers in the case of live shows.

An independent promoter of live music, Jean-Eric Smith of Youngblood Productions, said that in order to make gigs like a recent Damian Marley appearance happen organisations had to come together better and that economic conditions continued to bite.

“Obviously the country is going through hard times and it is difficult to receive sponsorship from the government. It is election year and I am pushing for all the change I can get.

“All politicians need to address the fact that … part of the [tourism] budget needs to go toward supporting local initiatives like entertainment and concerts so that we can continue to contribute to the goal of converting tourists to return visitors.”

Tourism Attraction Board curators of heritage

The Tourism Attraction Board oversees the management of four on-island attractions owned by the government.

They are the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Pedro St. James, Cayman Craft Market and Hell Attraction Site, plus the Pirates Week National Festival.

The Tourism Attraction Board was created in 1996 under the Tourism Attraction Board Law to develop and manage the Pedro St. James Castle historic site. In 1997, the Board’s mandate was expanded to include the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. The other attractions and the Pirates Week Festival were subsequently added to the board’s responsibility. The board is comprised of seven members overseen by the Minister of Tourism, with a management team including CEO Gilbert Connolly and his assistant, a financial controller and a marketing manager. Each attraction has its own manager such as John Lawrus at the Botanic Park, Jean-Eric Smith at the Craft Market, Carson Ebanks at Pedro St. James and formerly Bernie Bush at the Pirates Week National Festival.

Specifically, the attraction board’s duties include Administrative Office

Development and implementation of marketing strategies, personnel management, general accounting and insurance management, preparation of budgets and financial statements, Freedom of Information management, health insurance and pensions management, the provision of secretarial services for the board and implementation of board policies.

Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park

Operational management for the display and maintenance of Colour Gardens, Heritage Garden Orchid Garden and Palm Wa
lk; maintenance of nature trail; plant sales and maintenance; educational seminars; operation of gift shop; promote rental of the site for special events.

Pedro St. James

Operational management and custody of a historic site; operation of gift shop and the theatre audio-visual show; café and bar operation; promote rental of the site for special events; generate revenue from on site activities.

Pirates Week Office

Organise and schedule activities of the festival; solicit sponsorship, and donations, generate revenue from events; assist District Heritage Day presentations.

Hotel, rental room inventory

The number of rooms available for tourists to rent have not recovered to pre-2004 levels (the year Hurricane Ivan struck), largely because of the decline in the number of hotels in the Cayman Islands.

On the other hand, the number of rentable rooms in private accommodations has generally risen since the storm and comprised the majority of room inventory as of 2010, the most recent year that government statistics are available.

Meanwhile, the occupancy rate for hotel rooms has been higher in recent years compared to the several years prior to Ivan, and remains significant greater than the occupancy rate for private rental accommodations (i.e. apartments, cottages and guest houses).

Grand Cayman has at least three new hotel buildings in the works, which together would boost the number of hotel rooms by some 20 per cent or more. If and when all three buildings are completed and the rooms become available, the number of hotel rooms would be on the cusp of levels seen from 2000-2004.

From 2000-2004, there were 25 to 30 hotels in Cayman, totalling 2,473 to 2,812 rooms. The government does not have data for 2005 due to fluctuations following Ivan’s landing in September 2004.

From 2006-2010, there were 16 to 21 hotels in Cayman, totalling 1,959 to 2,205 rooms (with 2,032 hotel rooms in 2010).

From 2000-2004, there were 2,453 to 2,635 rentable rooms in private accommodations in Cayman.

From 2006-2010, the number of available private rooms rose from 1,702 to 2,555.
From 2000-2004, the average occupancy rate for hotel rooms was 56 per cent. From 2006-2010, the average occupancy rate for hotels was 62 per cent.

From 2000-2004, the average occupancy rate for private rooms was 42 per cent. From 2006-2010, the average occupancy rate for private rooms was 43 per cent. On West Bay Road, the Dart Group is replacing the former Courtyard by Marriott with a new hotel with 200 to 245 rooms. On the Esterley Tibbetts highway, the owners of the former Hyatt are redeveloping the site into a 168-room business hotel, sources in the property industry have said. In East End, a 35-unit building is being added to the collection of Morritt Properties’ timeshare resort.

Together, those three projects would add 403 to 448 hotel rooms, or 20 to 22 per cent of the 2010 hotel room inventory.

The proposed medical tourism development in East End also calls for the construction of several hotels on site in the coming years.

In 2010, then-premier McKeeva Bush said the completed medical centre complex would necessitate the addition of 10,000 new hotel rooms in Cayman. That means the total number of available rooms for rent would have to more than double, from 2010 numbers.


The streets are hot during Batabano.
Photo: Justin Uzzell

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