Tourism officials are planning a review of procedures around arrivals for weddings amid reports that visiting brides are being charged a 30 percent deposit on their dresses.
Details of the policy – unknown to many in the destination wedding industry – emerged in the aftermath of an incident in which a traveling groom was held up for over an hour at the airport and eventually asked to pay a $67 bond on a dress intended for his wife-to-be. The woman was living on the island at the time, but the groom claimed the dress would leave with him and his wife would follow shortly after.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said his ministry was committed to ensuring visitors to the island received a “warm welcome” and were processed quickly and efficiently by customs and immigration officials.
He said, “In light of the unfortunate incident that recently took place at the Owen Roberts International Airport regarding the importation of a wedding dress, the Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration with the Department of Tourism and other relevant stakeholders, is undertaking a review of the policies as they relate to persons entering the Cayman Islands as part of a wedding party.”
In response to questions from the Compass about the incident last week, Collector of Customs Samantha Bennett said wedding dresses “imported on a temporary basis” were subject to a deposit of 30 percent of the value of the dress.
It is not clear how often this deposit is actually being charged, however, and Ms. Bennett declined to respond to requests for more information about the application of the policy yesterday.
Chamber of Commerce president Johann Moxam warned that charging deposits on wedding clothes risked damaging Cayman’s reputation as a location for destination weddings and called for a review of the legislation to create a more friendly environment.
“Last week’s unfortunate visitor experience should encourage a full review of the Customs Law and Regulations and the list of duty free imported goods to ensure that we are creating a business friendly climate and not potentially ruining what is meant to be a joyous and memorable occasion.
“The current law and regulations certainly do not represent the Caymankind wedding experience that we are trying to promote. The customs officials were doing their jobs in accordance with the law but this demonstrates the disconnect between creating a business friendly climate versus the inconsistent, discretionary based approach to collect revenue at any cost,” Mr. Moxam said.
Minister Kirkconnell suggested a review of current policies would take place, and insisted it was vital that Cayman maintain its position in the destination wedding market.
There have been 162 weddings conducted for visitors in the Cayman Islands so far in 2014. “Tourism arrivals have registered impressive growth, particularly over the last year and the ministry is keen that this upward momentum is maintained,” said Mr. Kirkconnell.
“Moreover, given that our islands have successfully established a reputation as a preferred destination wedding location that offers a high quality experience, it is important that we are able to compete on a level playing field with other destinations.”
The Customs Law 2011 gives discretionary power to the collector of customs to allow goods “temporarily imported with a view to subsequent exportation” to be brought into the country free of duty, “subject to such conditions as the collector may think fit to impose.”
The legislation would technically give customs officers, subject to a policy decision, the right to charge a deposit for “temporary importation” of any items brought in by visitors to the Cayman Islands.
Wedding planner and celebrant Joy Basdeo said she was unaware, until this recent incident, that visitors arriving for a wedding could be asked to leave a deposit on their clothing. She said more clarity was needed about what the policy was so that visitors were aware of the rules and did not get a nasty surprise at the airport.
“If we are indeed serious about the destination wedding industry, we must make this clear to all concerned. Visiting couples will not, I believe, mind following the rules of the land, as long as they understand what the rules are,” Ms. Basdeo said. “In my opinion, visiting couples should be given a break on whatever they are taking out of the country, if they have to pay a deposit, make it small. We want to be a hospitable as we can and, above all, we want to make the immigration and customs process as smooth as we can.”
Tina Foster, who runs a wedding photography business, said she felt the policy of charging a 30 percent deposit on wedding clothes, if it were enforced routinely, would definitely hurt the industry.
“I think one of the benefits we have on the Cayman Islands is how easy it is to get a wedding license. We are one of the easiest places to get a wedding license and I think this [decision] counteracts the ease and simplicity of a Cayman Island wedding,” Ms. Foster said.
Ken Hydes, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, added, “As a destination that heavily promotes destination weddings, CITA feels it is important for the Cayman Islands to continually review the process and laws were applicable to ensure that such events can be executed to the highest standards for individuals choosing our islands for their significant events in the truest Caymankind spirit.”