Retailers are bracing themselves for a last-minute rush from shoppers with the sound of “jingle tills” ringing in Christmas in stores across the Cayman Islands.
Business has been booming at hotels and some shops around the islands in the run up to Christmas, with cautious optimism the abiding sentiment of the retail sector.
Concrete figures on consumer spending are not yet available but several businesses told the Caymanian Compass that sales were up on previous years, though still well below pre-2008 levels.
Many retailers said they planned to stay open until at least 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve to take advantage of a last-minute stampede to the stores from under-prepared shoppers.
Children’s toys, books, jewelery, clothes and electronics were all selling well in the run up to Dec. 25.
Gerry Kirkconnell, of Kirk Freeport jewellery store in George Town, said Monday that the picture looked good.
“So far, we are very pleased with the figures. Of course, the next few days are big days and the shopping season really continues into early January so we won’t know the full story until next month. So far, I can say we are doing better than in the last few years and certainly better than last year.”
He said the post-Christmas week was a big one for the store with Jan. 6, the end of the 12 days of Christmas and the beginning of the epiphany, an important gift-giving day for Latin Americans, many of whom would be holidaying in Grand Cayman over the festive period.
Steve Wagner, manager of Books and Books in Camana Bay, said it was a busy time at the store with children’s toys and fiction books the biggest sellers.
“So far, we are very happy. It has been going really well, particularly over the past few days. It looks like things will be a bit up on last year.”
Annette Scott, manager of Atlantic Kids store, said the shop was very busy.
“Things are picking up and people are enjoying the Christmas season,” she added.
At Divers Supply on West Bay Road, store manager Adam Gibbons reported steady trade. But he was hoping for a late boost with the shop open till 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
“Pre-Christmas is a big rush, particularly for clothes and accessories,” Mr. Gibbons said Monday. “We are definitely busy but never as busy as we would like to be. We are probably a little bit down on last year at this point.”
Grand Cayman hotels are also enjoying a bumper holiday season this year, registering occupancy rates upwards of 95 percent, even extending through January and into March.
Executive Director of the Cayman Islands Tourist Association and head of the group’s accommodation sector sub-committee Jane van der Bol said local hotels “were doing extremely well, and looking very good even until March.”
She was unable to cite occupancy rates, but said even condos and alternate accommodations “were looking very good this season. I’m very pleased.”
“We’re looking up, and this year is better than last winter,” she said, pointing to an overall economic recovery. “There is definitely more spend in the local economy among both local people and visitors. We have this beautiful water and beaches and a lot more.”
Marriott Hotel Director of Sales Laura Skec was able to fill in a few of the numbers, saying, “We are running a full house,” registering nearly 100 percent occupancy in the Marriott’s 295 rooms.
“The peak comes in January, and the majority of our arrivals are late in the month,” she said, adding that many arrive on Christmas Eve. She said the hotel registered similar rates each year, meaning Christmas 2013 is not a significant improvement on 2012, but Ms Skec was positive about an improved economy.
Thomas Mason, general manager at the next-door Comfort Suites, was enthusiastic, saying not only had the hotel achieved 100 percent occupancy in its 119 rooms, but that the hotel was collecting a 30 percent boost to the room rates in the wake of a $2.5 million renovation in the last year.
“We are happy not only for the occupancy, but also that the hotel has been able to get a rate growth of 30 percent,” he said.
Comfort Suites Director of Sales Kay White, Mr. Mason said, “has been talking to our guests, and they are so happy to be here and out of the cold of winter.” Occupancy, he said, had been fairly steady during the past four years.
At the Reef Resort in East End, Camiel McKenzie of the hotel’s reservations team, said the operation was running between 95 percent and 100 percent occupancy in the hotel’s 152 rooms, a fairly standard rate for the last four or five years.
“Some of the dates,” she said, will fall in January and some in February, but occupancy was at peak levels.
Sales manager at Morritt’s Resort Debbie Talowsky pronounced the hotel full “at 100 percent occupancy right though till May,” in its approximately 160 rooms.
“It’s always like this,” she said, “but we’re very happy.”
At the Westin, Reservations Manager Jessica Kozaily said, “Things have been gong extremely well, from Christmas through New Year.”
Accommodation rates were running about 100 percent in the Westin’s 343 rooms, which registered “at least 80 percent occupancy for the last seven years“ during the Dec. 21 to Jan. 4 holiday period.