Mini-breaks the new norm for vital stay-over visitors

Figures show a shift toward shorter stays since global recession

The traditional two-week family beach holiday could be replaced by shorter, more frequent, mini-breaks as tourists cut costs and spread their funds and vacation time over a wider variety of destinations.

Visitors to the Cayman Islands are shifting toward shorter stays, figures suggest.

The 2012 Compendium of Statistics, released by government last month, offers a snapshot of how the industry has changed since 2005.

The average length of stay for visitors arriving by air decreased from 7.6 in 2005 to 4.8 in 2011. No figures were available for 2012, but the Cayman Islands Tourism Association has reported that the trend continued last year and into 2013.

The per-night expenditure of the average visitor increased significantly over the same time period, according to statistics gleaned from the Department of Tourism’s visitor exit surveys.

In 2005, visitors were spending $115 a night, compared with $194 in 2011.

That increase reflects an rise in the cost-of-living, including hotel room prices, over the period, according to Jane van der Bol, executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association. She said she believes the figures reflect a global trend of travellers spending less, in real terms, on shorter vacations.

“It is a worldwide phenomenon,” she said. “We are also seeing it with the businesses that bring incentive groups here.

“They are cutting down on the expense of travelling and the amount of vacation time.”

The numbers could also be explained by a shift in attitudes toward travel, with Web advertising and promotions bringing a broader range of possibilities to would-be travellers scouring the Internet for their next vacation from an office cubicle.

“With the onset of social media, much wider choices of where to travel are at our fingertips,” Ms van der Bol said. “Competition is much greater. People want to go to different places and they are making shorter trips, more regularly to different destinations.”

The traditional two-week family summer beach vacation, it seems, may be slowly being replaced by a different type of travel. The proximity of the Cayman Islands to the US and Canada, compared with long-haul destinations, make it appealing for short-stay tourists, Ms van der Bol said.

She believes the key to the trend, though, is the global recession. People are starting to spend again on travel and tourism, but they are dipping their toes in the water cautiously.

“Pre-recession, we were spending, we were enjoying life, now these things have been cut back,” she said. “We are coming out of recession and travel is on the rise but we are not quite ready to be as gluttonous as we were before. Everybody is a little more cautious.”

“People’s need to travel will always be there,” Ms van der Bol added. “People need memories, they need life experiences that they can hold on to.”

She sees little significance in the fact that the average spend-per-traveller has increased, putting that down to increases in prices.

The figures from the compendium of statistics suggest that while room prices, and therefore the average nightly spend, may have risen, discretionary spending has come down.

This is seen most clearly in a decline in the amount of cash cruise-ship passengers report spending on a daily basis.

In 2005, the average passenger spent $93-a-day. In 2011, it was just $67. The numbers have fluctuated significantly over the years.

Somewhat surprisingly, passengers visiting the island in 2009, immediately after the global economic crash, spent an average of 
$137 every day.