Wedding bells: Do they toll for Cayman tourism?

Opposite this editorial, we publish in its entirety a statement from Ms. Samantha Bennett, Collector of Customs. Ms. Bennett writes in response to an article which appeared in the Caymanian Compass on May 1 and to an editorial published the following day on the same subject.

It is the policy of this newspaper to provide space for fair comment to our news articles and opinion pieces, and we welcome Ms. Bennett’s remarks. We would note that before the article was published, we contacted Ms. Bennett for her comments, which she opted to give us in written form and which we included in the original article.

For readers not familiar with the issue at hand, the article and editorial focused on an incident at the airport involving a visitor (and former resident) to Grand Cayman who was returning to the island to marry his fiancée. She was residing here on a work permit.
Following their wedding on the beach, the couple planned to leave Cayman to start their new lives as husband and wife.

The bridegroom, who was traveling with his mother, had in his suitcase, but did not declare on his Customs Declaration Form, his bride’s wedding dress. That’s when the trouble started — and escalated. The mother was crying, and the fiancée who had come to the airport to reunite with her future husband was also in tears.

The narrow issue is whether bridegrooms, or any tourists, entering the country are required to declare and pay duty or deposits on clothing or personal effects which will be worn or used during their visit and taken from the islands when they leave. Do such regulations apply to swimsuits, cosmetics, computers … or Rolexes and expensive diamond jewelry?

If the answer is yes, or even maybe, to the above question, then we might as well shutter our doors as a tourist destination. Clarity — without any nuance or ambiguity — is needed on this policy.

Along with Ms. Bennett’s letter, we are also publishing on Page 5 comments from our readers regarding this incident. Two themes emerge: 1) the impact of this incident on our tourism industry, and 2) the lack of common sense in handling this issue.

Ms. Bennett, conveniently but not wisely, addresses neither in her letter.

We are particularly disturbed at the incongruity of what took place in customs and the Department of Tourism’s “Caymankind” marketing campaign.

Likewise, DOT is also promoting Cayman as a wedding destination. Its website declares, “The Cayman Islands offers something few destinations can match … exquisite natural beauty infused with civility and commitment … tying the knot in this corner of the Caribbean couldn’t be easier.”

Absent from this debate, which is exhibiting all of the symptoms of going viral throughout the international blogosphere, are the voices of our Minister of Tourism Moses Kirkconnell, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who heads up the Civil Service, and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.

The implications of this matter are of such consequence to the economy of these islands that we believe Premier Alden McLaughlin needs to speak up as well.

Frankly, policymakers need to invite Ms. Bennett to the Government Administration Building for a little chat.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Well said! You mentioned Rolex watches – let’s add an international businessman traveling with the equivalent of a $1000 Brooks Brothers suit in his case.

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  2. This is harrassment to the bride and groom. Take note, the island doesn’t need this awful p.r. Customs agents should be terminated for stupidity.

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  3. WOW!!! The Caymanian Compass seriously need to work on objective and responsible reporting. From the start of this attack on the Customs Dept by the Editor it was concerning to me that the ‘story’ seemed very one sided and that the Editor was working overtime at pulling the heart string of readers by focusing on things like a mother and wife to be crying blah blah blah, rather than on the facts i.e. the groom to be was in breach of the law; the groom proposed the deposit of 500 NOT Customs, and that the groom and company were being extremely rude (yes I was present). Even with the clarification provided by the Acting Collector, the Editor still seeks to drag this matter out rather than retract earlier incorrect, bias and exaggerated comments. Who is really doing the damage to the Country’s image??

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  4. Samantha Bennet will not have such a conversation. She does not ‘think’ outside the box. Her motto is ‘CHARGE! CHARGE! CHARGE!… and show NO MERCY!’

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  5. This story is about 1)interpreting the existing Customs Tariff Law. If personal attire of a visitor, including a wedding dress is duty free, then it is duty free. There are no exclusions for wedding dresses in the Law. In fact, no exclusions for anything that constitutes personal attire of a visitor. Customs agents seem to think otherwise and they have to explain WHY? Based on what legal grounds? 2)the unsuspected visitors are ambushed upon entry because nothing in the customs declaration is about what they should declare and what they should not. Any reasonable person under the circumstances (visiting as a tourist) would conclude that he or she IMPORTS personal belongings. Many comments here about emotional part of the incident, CI reputation, etc.. That aside, we need to know who is interpreting the Law incorrectly.

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  6. Once and for all we need to know WHY wedding dresses and grooms suites are NOT (according to customs) personal attire of a visitor. THERE ARE NO EXCLUSIONS FOR IT IN THE TARIFF LAW. The Law is not including definitions of IMPORT and PERSONAL ATTIRE OF A VISITOR. No reasonable personal visiting the islands would ever conclude that he or she IMPORTS personal belongings. CI Customs seem to follow some unwritten law. And that is why we need to know. For all future visitors! The answer of Ms. Bennet is SILENT which directive (not the LAW as it is) she and her staff follow.

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  7. I can’t believe that anyone reading this thinks that the customs agent was right.
    If this is the case then we are looking at a huge problem, because if her dress was for example her mom’s wedding dress handed down to her, how does that customs official assess a value?
    Then again, is there is duty on the dress, why not on her shoes, the rings, her underwear, earrings, etc. When do you draw the line? If you charge on the dress then you must by their logic assume that everything in his/her suitcase will stay in Cayman or they are going to sell everything and leave with nothing.
    I had some friends come into Cayman on a cruise, they packed their dresses and clothes and went to Grand Old house. I guarantee you there is no customs for cruiseshippers but if you agree with Customs, there should be.
    This is ridiculous and makes zero common sense… Philip Crane said they were rude to the customs officer… of course they were!!!

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  8. This is ultimately self-defeating to Cayman’s desire to be a premier wedding destination. If they think this will help avoid newlyweds selling their Wedding Dresses and Tuxedo’s right after they get married they are nuts. No one who can afford to have a wedding in Cayman would need to sell the wedding dress and I can’t believe any new brides would want to anyway, so no one can convince me that there is a risk here. If they think that publicizing all the duties or deposits required to be paid by newlyweds will not have a negative effect on the industry they are equally crazy. I am sure there are people that may have been considering getting married in Cayman that have already changed their minds due to this. If Cayman wants to welcome weddings they should advertise wedding related apparel for visitors as duty free. I’m sure customs has much more to worry about. A visitor is much more likely to sell their Laptop, Tablet, Jewelry or Camera while on island, will this be the next step. I am sure there’s plenty of wealthy visitors that have a suit case full of outfits that cost more than $350 each and do not have receipts for each one nor do they desire to be scrutinized about their clothing. Folks in the Wedding Planning industry and the DOT really need to approach the CIG about this, before it starts effecting the industry.

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