One of the cornerstone industries for Cayman is tourism and keeping the country at the centre of possible visitors’ decision-making remains a hot issue for candidates.
Minister for Tourism Cline Glidden said tourism is a key driver for the economy, from owners of properties to hourly-paid staff.
“It provides a key economic stimulus, employment and investment opportunities,” he said.
“We have significant investors who first came to Cayman as tourists and fell in love with it so they made it their home and place of business. There are also employment and training opportunities for Caymanians.
“It also brings foreign exchange from tourist spending but we also get crossover from finance. People come here, see a safe destination and think of us when they are making a decision as to where to base their financial advisors or mutual funds. Tourism is very broad-reaching in our destination.”
There are many ways in which Cayman attracts visitors to its shores, said the minister.
“It is a combination of efforts; we use signature marketing in North Eastern United States, for example, but we have Department of Tourism presence in the rest of the US and into Europe and on a smaller scale into Central and South America.
“The opportunities are significant. We are able to target these areas with marketing and promotional material, media advertising and sponsorships. We do that across all our source markets. Recently we have had good performance for tourism coming out of an economic downturn and this is a good measuring stick to our marketing success. An achievement for our government is that we have reduced spend by 35 per cent over a three year period. It is always a challenge as to whether you are spending too much or not enough.”
He added that whilst it was always good to do better with less, there was a point where it became a case of diminishing returns.
“Some of our competitors [have the budget to] sponsor [high profile] events where they are able to get higher brand recognition so it is a continuous balance for us. Our Caymankind promotion’s success has been demonstrated by arrival numbers.
“The ideal for the next few years is to maintain and grow. We have seen great things coming out of Canada, where the economy is doing well; we need more into the Midwestern and Western United States and the introduction of the Dallas flights is a move in that direction.
“We also have to look toward Europe and we are trying to be more accommodating with visa requirements for those coming from Eastern Europe and Asia. We think there is significant growth potential in Europe. If, from a tourism standpoint, we can grow demand from Europe that will justify additional airlift,” he said.
Mr. Glidden noted that British Airways had said previously that they would not bring bigger planes to Cayman as the demand was not there so building a longer runway was not feasible on that basis.
“If the demand increases we will then look at infrastructure to accommodate that demand. We don’t want to spend that kind of money and not get the airlift because the demand was simply not there.”
The Progressives also noted that tourism was a vital part of Cayman’s economy. Moses Kirkconnell said that tourism was ‘everyone’s job in Cayman.’
“Tourism is the lifeblood of our economy; creating a safe, fun, clean and welcoming environment is the objective of Caymanians,” he noted.
“Giving visitors even more reasons, besides our sun, beaches and friendly people, to visit Cayman needs to be our objective. Medical and sports tourism are on the horizon, we just need to grab them and move forward.
“Tourism creates opportunities for all Caymanians. It brings needed economic infusion to Cayman, and it needs to be a focus of the next government. The revenue earned from tourism helps to finance government’s operational expenses, pay civil servants, pay for goods and services and of course, finance its social programmes in health and education, to name just two. That is why it is so important that our tourism industry continues to do well.
Mr. Kirkconnell added that over the years Caymanians had not always seen the value in grasping the economic opportunities offered by tourism in the same way that their ‘Caribbean brothers and sisters have.’ A new Progressives government, said Mr. Kirkconnell, would will therefore give them the tools to be able to grasp these opportunities.
“We will provide training in the various areas of the hospitality industry and work with stakeholders to provide job attachments and on-the-job training to equip more of our people with the necessary skills to be competitive in the job market.
“Modernising our airport and building a cruise ship port is not about spending money, it is about creating opportunity. And the longer we delay these actions, the further we fall behind neighbouring islands. Visitors have a choice of where to go, let’s give them even more reasons to come to Cayman,” he said.
Mr. Kirkconnell said that the Progressives felt that the current government had failed in its work to make sure tourism thrived.
“Just like their failures in bringing business to Cayman, their inability to invest in making Cayman a place for visitors to relax, invest and enjoy means we have a lot of work to do.
“There is no better example of the government’s failure than the fact that we still do not have berthing facilities for cruise ships. We are in danger of being left off the cruise lines’ itineraries because of it and this will have a direct impact on the lives of many Caymanians who cater to cruise ship passengers. A new berthing facility will be one of the first orders of business for a new Progressives government.”
He said that investing capital was necessary to make sure of the high quality of the airport, a cruise harbour, roads and private entities that bring people to Cayman. Making sure Cayman was safe, clean and offered value for money was key, as was allocating marketing dollars based on scientific data.
“We have an advantage in our proximity to the United States market because it costs less for tourists to come here than some of our competitors in the Caribbean. We must capitalise on this while exploring new markets both in North America and Latin America,” he said.
Improved air service to, and an increased marketing focus on, the Sister Islands would also be part of his party’s plan, he said.
“Cayman is at a point in her history where private and public partnerships need to be the future. We have proven that we can build our country. We have proven that we can come back from utter devastation as we did after hurricanes Ivan and Paloma. It is now time that we seek mutual investments that will continue to make Cayman a must visit destination for tourists,” said Mr. Kirkconnell.
Cayman product sound
The United Democratic Party’s Tessa Bodden noted that globally, tourism continued to face challenges due to slow economic recovery and an uncertain outlook in major traditional markets. She explained that tourism in Cayman was on the right track to recover nonetheless.
“Air arrivals are up by 4.1 per cent in 2012 – the highest in 11 years. Cruise arrivals are also up, with an increase of 7.6 per cent over 2011. We are also now spending 35 per cent less on the Department of Tourism and the results have been the best they’ve been in 12 years.
“Tourism continues to be a major earner for the Caymanian economy and one which, due to its long-term viability, must be a key component of any
economic programme. The UDP Administration has always implemented, in conjunction with industry stakeholders, policies which enhance the tourism product, add value to the vacation of our visitors and promote a wider and more diverse distribution of tourism earnings. Over the next four years, we plan on increasing Cayman’s market share by preserving our traditional markets while exploring new markets in non-traditional countries.”
Integrated strategies, she said, would include ensuring environmental protection to guarantee sustainability and ecotourism; increasing revenue and putting in special pension schemes and housing benefits for Caymanian workers; pursuing specific target sectors such as sports, health and medical tourism; convalescent and retirement centres; expanding the airport, securing direct flights from Europe and Asia and increasing both airlift capacity and visitor arrivals; building a new cruise port; implementing a comprehensive energy policy; promoting both five-star resorts and boutique hotels; providing micro-financing for startups in tourism.
Running independently is Stefan Baraud. His overview is that tourism in all its forms is a significant employer for the Cayman Islands as well as an economic driver. But more could be done, he said.
“We need to take tourism to the next level. We need to improve our room stock which has been significantly depleted as a result of Ivan. It is lower now than it was pre-Ivan which is a huge problem. We need to create additional properties to resolve that, and they need to be the ones that attract the right visitor profile.
“We are not capitalising on one of the biggest assets we have: the Caymanian people. They are ambassadors for this country. We need programmes that are going to grow numbers of Caymanians working in the hospitality industry. Who best to showcase this destination than our own people?”
Developing a curriculum for education was key, he said, with the University College of the Cayman Islands in discussions regarding hospitality training in the classrooms.
“Every child should be exposed to tourism as part of the curriculum in the high schools. Part of the problem is that there was a re-focus on industry. There is also a cultural consideration that worked against growing the numbers of Caymanians in the hospitality industry.
“But if you recall where we started it was Caymanians in the industry; the housekeepers, the bartenders – hardworking people doing these jobs. But they felt they wanted better for their children so there was some level of push from that generation for their kids to maybe get a job in the growing financial industry.”
In the current climate, he said, the hospitality industry had meaningful jobs, and lots of them, available.
“It is the second-largest category of work permits. That is an area in which we can absorb a lot of the unemployment numbers we are experiencing right now. We are already armed with the tools – we understand our culture, we have the charm and spirit as Caymanians and all we need is to undergo the formal training that the hospitality industry is looking for. That is easy to do in a short period of time and would remedy that unemployment problem.
“There is also a misconception that people are not well-paid but within food and beverage people are earning significant sums, particularly in high season. The hourly rate may be low but the gratuity element is sometimes missed. From personal experience of owning restaurants in the past I can tell you that a lot of our employees were doing extremely well from that 15 to 20 per cent and better even than any teller in other industries.”