The US opening to Cuba may present possibilities

Cayman’s tourism industry is eyeing the possibility of travel restrictions on United States tourists to Cuba being relaxed.

Jane van der Bol of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association said that although Cuba is ‘quickly reviving itself,’ the island is not a similar product to the Cayman Islands.

“The Cayman Islands is a long established product that is ever increasing in quality products and services,” she noted.

“It would be to our benefit to establish reciprocal agreements between the Cuba product and the Cayman product as Cayman Airways serves non-stop flights between Cuba and Grand Cayman.

“It would not be out of the question to see wholesaler packages with a stay-over in Cuba and Cayman.”Shomari Scott, Director of Tourism, also said that there has been a harmonious relationship built between Cuba and Cayman at a ministerial level throughout the years which engendered mutual understanding. He said that these higher level discussions had been ongoing for a number of years, before any potential opening up of the United States. In the interim, talks had been more from an European standpoint ‘to align certain interline agreements’ with airlift.

“When I look at the possibility of Cuba opening up [to the States], I like to look at it as a glass half full in that there are a lot of positives that can come out of it. It would ensure firstly that we would not rest on our laurels; stakeholders within the tourism community need to ensure we retain our loyal customer base as 40 per cent is repeat business in any given year.

“We need to treat them well and make them feel like they are at home, so even if they feel like tasting another Caribbean island they would come back to Cayman. We have seen that from research – people either taste many islands then settle on one or find one that ticks all their boxes and they stay with that island for an eternity.”

Customer service needed to be kept to the fore and increasing island-unique experiences would ensure that Cayman remained competitive, said the director, who noted that Cuba was a mass-market destination whilst Cayman was not and did not intend ever to be.

“Due to our good relationship with Cuba there are opportunities for twin centre types of programmes where you might spend four nights in Cuba and four here but of course finding specific niches. Relaxing on the beach and great diving would be Cayman then backpacking or some of the cultural or historical aspects of Cuba would marry to that.

“We would ensure we had like properties to like to match price points. We still want to reach the right target market. Of course, there is a little bit of a threat but it is an opportunity as well. We can always hold true to friendliness of people, great diving, beaches. Our exit surveys tell us that the number one reason people choose us over other destinations is friendliness of people.”

Mr. Scott noted that one of the objectives moving forward, in partnership with organisations and private entities, was ensuring that visitors to Cayman could enjoy a higher prevalence of cultural activities.

“We call it ‘unearthing of the soul of the island’; making it visible so visitors can see it and taste it. We are hearing that visitors want to hear more history and experience more culture. We are working with partners and shortly there will be more programmes led by the private sector [coming on stream here.]”

Cayman Islands Tourism Association

The Cayman Islands Tourism Association is a non-profit association that represents its membership of just over 250 tourism related private businesses in the Cayman Islands. The various sectors within the Tourism Association include hotels, condo/villas, watersports, restaurants, transportation, attractions, cruise and allied, which comprises all other businesses associated with the island’s tourism product.

It was formed in March 2001 through an amalgamation of the Cayman Tourism Alliance and the Cayman Islands Hotel and Condominium Association. The association is wholly funded by membership subscriptions and fundraising. The association promotes the continuing improvement and development of Cayman’s tourism Industry through the exchange of information, government relations, training and education, marketing and events.

It is comprised of an elected board of directors that meets monthly and also sits on various other committees to represent their sector. A president and vice president are also elected.

The Cayman Islands Tourism Association has an office at 1320 West Bay Road, which is staffed by Executive Chairman Jane van der Bol plus permanent staff and volunteers.
The association puts on a number of events and initiatives throughout the year including Taste of Cayman, which brings together more than 30 restaurants, beverage suppliers, artists and craftsmen and is attended by around 4,000 people.

The association is very active in talking with government entities including the Department of Tourism and working together on special rates, marketing ideas, possible new aviation routes and more in order to both retain current visitation and drive new traffic to the destination.

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