An environmental impact assessment will form part of the business case for the planned cruise berthing facilities in George Town harbour.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said PricewaterhouseCoopers would work with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to determine what work was required to assess potential damage to the marine environment caused by the proposed project in Grand Cayman.
“I don’t know what they did before, but I can tell you it is part of our plan,” he said, confirming that the impact on the reefs and marine life in the harbour would be considered before the plan moved forward.
Mr. Kirkconnell met with cruise industry leaders in Florida last week to reassure them that getting the piers built was a priority for the new government. But he said he had also sought commitments from the cruise lines to bring more visitors to the island – even before the new dock is built.
Early figures for 2013 suggest Grand Cayman is on course for its worst year in more than a decade on cruise arrivals.
Visitor numbers in the sector reached almost two million in 2006 and are now hovering between 1.4 million and 1.5 million.
“What we are hoping to do in the next few years is to increase that number by 100,000 or 200,000,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “There is an infrastructural demand that has been identified for the dock because of the size of the cruise vessels.
“What we are looking at is how to increase visitors to Cayman while we are waiting for this process to take place with the piers.”
He said it had been important to reassure members of the Florida Caribbean Cruising Association at the Miami meeting that the Cayman Islands was still interested in the sector. He said one cruise line had committed to adding another ship to the schedule and others had spoken of a desire to bring additional visitors.
“Between today and the piers being completed, we wanted to know what we could do to build this momentum toward getting more vessels and bringing in more visitors.
“I think those discussions were a success and we will see cruise passenger numbers increase in the next two years.”
Mr. Kirkconnell, along with tourism councillor Joey Hew and chief officer Stran Bodden, met with the FCCA leadership, as well as executives from Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise lines.
He said the cruise lines had been looking for some commitments to minor infrastructure improvements, which he described as “low hanging fruit”.
“There were some things they were looking for from us. Some of the signage needs improving, we need to deal with the benches. We were able to commit to sorting that out.”
In a departure from sentiments expressed by his predecessor, Cline Glidden, Mr. Kirkconnell said he had “no preference” on who built the piers.
Mr. Glidden had suggested the cruise lines had an “inherent advantage” in any bidding process because of their ability to guarantee passengers.
Mr. Kirkconnell said: “The business case won’t be complete till October, an environmental assessment has to take place.
“Once that is done we are very open to whomever PwC has engaged. There’s not a preference from our standpoint.”