Year of extremes for tourism industry

Air arrivals soar as cruise industry suffers

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It is the best of times and the worst of times for the tourism industry in the Cayman Islands. 

Statistics for 2013, released Tuesday, show air arrivals soared to near record highs, while cruise arrivals sank to a 10-year low. 

A total of 345,387 “stay-over” visitors touched down in the Cayman Islands last year – the highest since 2000. The figure is just under 10,000 short of the record total, achieved in that year. 

The statistic, a key barometer of the health of the islands’ tourism industry, has been rising steadily since 2009, when just over 270,000 people visited the Cayman Islands. 

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said he was “very pleased” with the stay-over figures and confident that the upward momentum would continue in the coming years. 

The encouraging figure was tempered by the confirmation that 2013 had been a low point for the higher volume, but lower spending, cruise industry.  

Statistics for passengers arriving by cruise ship dipped to a low of 1,375,872, the worst numbers since 2001. 

The figure had been broadly expected because cruise ships announce their itineraries well in advance and is offset by the fact that bookings for 2014 and 2015 suggest a dramatic rebound for the industry. 

With tourism officials hopeful that the upward trend of air arrivals will continue and an estimated 1.8 million cruise passengers predicted, 2014 promises to be a significant year for the industry. 

Hotels have been among those to benefit from the surge in numbers. Thomas Mason, general manager of the Comfort Suites hotel on Seven Mile Beach, said the resort had enjoyed a record breaking year in 2013. 

He said, “I think the increased air lift is really starting to pay off tremendously. Passengers can now fly direct from many of the key cities in the U.S. The accessibility of the island has greatly increased.” 

In terms of their economic value, “stay-over” tourists provide the most direct impact. Cruise tourists spend an average of $67 a day in the Cayman Islands, while tourists arriving by air spend $194 a day, according to figures collated from visitor exit surveys. 

Stay-over visitors also stay longer, averaging five days per visit according to the latest figures available – for 2011. By those statistics, the average tourist arriving by air spends a total of $931 – nearly 14 times as much as the typical cruise passenger who visits for one day. 

Cruise passengers, despite their relatively low spend, are still considered vital to the Cayman economy because the high volume of visitors creates a market for tour operators, taxi drivers and other small businesses. 

Mr. Kirkconnell said, “I am very pleased with the solid increase in air arrivals which represents our best arrival figures since 2000, and I am optimistic that the proposed airport enhancements, in collaboration with our ongoing marketing initiatives, will help to maintain the positive momentum.  

“In terms of cruise visitation, while the reduction in passengers is regrettable, it underscores the critical importance and necessity for the cruise berthing facility, which my ministry is working exceedingly hard to bring about, to help balance cruise arrivals with stay-over arrivals.”  

Tourism officials and cruise industry leaders have previously indicated that the increase in cruise arrivals expected over the next few years is likely to be a temporary bump caused by social and economic conditions in the Mediterranean. They see a new cruise dock as vital to engineering a sustained improvement in passenger arrivals. 

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Air arrivals are at their highest since 2000.

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Cruise passenger numbers are at their lowest since 2001.
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