Pier, airport projects present challenge to road network and key attractions
A recent report by PwC estimated the cost at $15 million to 20 million for the improvements.
Moses Kirkconnell, minister of district administration, tourism and transport, said government is well aware that significant infrastructure improvements would be required in the capital. A committee has been established to evaluate the options for George Town.
“We know that it is going to cost money to revitalize George Town, to pedestrianize parts of it and to create a different traffic flow through there. We need to look at the capital expense of what this is going to cost for this government.
“We feel comfortable that the committee will put a number on what it will actually cost, and we feel we can fund that,” he said.
The capacity of the capital and of the island’s natural attractions to cope with an anticipated increase in tourist numbers were highlighted as potential issues in an outline business case for the port project.
The report projected that arrivals from cruise ships would increase once berthing facilities are built, reaching a peak of 2.3 million – a million more passengers than forecast for 2013.
Air arrivals are also expected to increase from about 320,000 annually once Owen Roberts International Airport is developed and planned hotel projects get off the ground.
The PwC report, while recommending the pier project proceed, expressed concern over how the capital and “honeypot” tourist attractions such as Seven Mile Beach and Stingray City would be impacted by increasing numbers of visitors.
The consultants warned that congestion at these sites and in bars and restaurants around the island could make them less appealing, and highlighted potential conflict between large numbers of cruise travelers and the expectations of bigger-spending tourists arriving by air.
The report cites “anecdotal evidence” to suggest congestion in George Town is already “unbearable” on peak days.
Mr. Kirkconnell also expressed confidence that the Cayman Islands could pursue growth in both cruise and air arrivals collectively, and that the islands attractions could cope with the increased numbers. He said improvements in amenities would be necessary, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs.
A study by engineering firm Mott MacDonald, prepared for PwC as part of the business case, suggests the tourism industry is divided on the issue of cruise versus air arrivals, and points out that there is no reliable data on the total number of tourists the island’s infrastructure and natural environment can accommodate.
It states: “The balance between two visitor types remains one of the overriding issues raised by tourism stakeholders in the Cayman Islands. One side sees a large volume of relatively low spending cruise visitors deterring stay over visitors and seriously diminishing the quality of the experience for everyone. Another side sees the growth of cruises as a chance to create additional wealth and opportunities for local entrepreneurs.”
It adds: “The carrying capacity of the natural environment and nature-based tourism attractions is limited, and may struggle to cope with potential increase intensity of use arising from tourist spending a longer time on shore. Mott MacDonald has not been provided with any studies or information in order to gauge the carrying capacity.”
The report also warns that the destruction of dive sites as a result of the project combined with larger tourist volumes could lead to overuse of sites elsewhere, potentially making the Cayman Islands less attractive as a diving destination.
The Department of Environment warned during the consultation process that led to the PwC report that the project needed to consider, “the impact of high volumes of visitor disembarkation into George Town over concentrated periods, particularly in terms of carrying capacity for natural attractions.” The engineering consultants said:
“There are transport shortages and severe congestion in the compact downtown George Town and the popular attractions. There is already large numbers of people and traffic in George Town with the number of passengers per day dictating the level of congestion in George Town and at the honeypot sites of Seven Mile Beach, the other public beaches and the main attractions of Stingray City and Boatswain’s Beach.
“On peak days, there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that the congestion in George Town is unbearable and the retailers do less well. On the beaches, there is conflict over rights of access and congestion at bars and restaurants.”