At least one tourist from almost every country has visited Grand Cayman in the past two years.
Visitors arrived on these shores from Iran and Azerbaijan, the Gambia and as far afield as Afghanistan. Some 158 countries or territories are represented in a detailed breakdown of visitor arrival data, supplied to the Caymanian Compass by the Department of Tourism.
The farthest distance anyone traveled to get here was the 24,000-mile round trip from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a remote Indian Ocean island territory between Australia and Sri Lanka that is home to 596 people.
Despite revealing the vast diversity of countries of origin, the figures also demonstrate just how heavily the islands’ tourism industry depends on its biggest customer – the United States.
Almost 70 percent of visitors who arrived in the Cayman Islands last year came from the U.S. Exactly 265,438 tourists from the States touched down at Owen Roberts International Airport in 2013, which was the best year for “stay over” arrivals in more than a decade.
That’s more than 10 times higher than the next largest visitor group – the 23,460 tourists who arrived from Canada. The U.K. is next with just over 13,000 visitors, followed by Cayman’s closest neighbors, Jamaica and Cuba. No other countries supplied more than 2,000 visitors. The figures exclude residents and work permit holders flying in and out of the country.
A marketing focus on emerging middle classes in South America appears to have had some impact.
Close to 1,700 tourists arrived from Brazil and Argentina last year – a slight increase over the 1,200 visitors from those two countries in 2012.
There was also a steady trickle of tourists from continental Europe, with more than 1,000 visitors each from Italy, Spain and Germany.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Tourism said international conferences and weddings were partially responsible for helping to draw tourists from every corner of the globe.
She said the U.S. will always be the core market for tourism in the Cayman Islands, but hosting diverse events helps pull in tourists from different locations to further boost the economy.
Russia and South America are viewed as potential growth markets, while attracting affluent tourists from the U.K. and Europe offers another potential buffer to arrivals from the U.S.
The lack of a direct flight from London or any major European city into Grand Cayman has long been viewed as a barrier to increasing travel from that region.
Increasing the length of the runway at Grand Cayman’s airport would help facilitate direct flights, but there is no guarantee that the airlines would be interested. Councilor Joey Hew said in a recent interview that the expansion of the runway was not likely to be part of the first phase of a planned redevelopment at the airport.
He said the airlines had indicated that an extra 2,000 to 3,000 hotel beds would be required before they would consider adding direct flights to George Town to their schedules.
Don McDougall, the Department of Tourism’s manager for the U.K. and Continental Europe, said other ways of improving airlift from the region are being reviewed.
He said a new American Airlines service connecting flights via Miami into Grand Cayman enables tourists to make the trip from Europe without having to stay overnight in the U.S.
A “twin center promotion” – inclusive holiday packages that allow tourists to visit two destinations (for example, Cuba and Cayman in a single trip) is also being discussed with Virgin Atlantic, he said.
“We are constantly looking for new airlift solutions to build the volume of visitor arrivals from the region,” he added.
Mr. McDougall said visitation is rising gradually from Europe, but he cautioned that the long-haul tourism business requires considerable and consistent investment.
“With half of the world within the same flying time from London as the Cayman Islands, the competition is far greater than just the Cayman Islands.”
“We are constantly looking for new airlift solutions to build the volume of visitor arrivals from the region.”
Don McDougall, Department of Tourism