Pop star Taylor Swift caused a minor stir last week when she was spotted enjoying a break in the Cayman Islands.
But while some Caribbean islands attempt to parlay celebrity vacations into tabloid column inches as a form of free destination advertising, the Cayman Islands continues to take a more low-key approach.
The Department of Tourism suggests that stars of the film and music industries visit the Cayman Islands just as frequently as they visit the Bahamas and other regional hot spots.
Ms. Swift, currently one of the most popular music stars, with hits like “Blank Space” and “Shake it Off,” was photographed by a fellow diner at Tukka restaurant in the East End last week, and she posted an Instagram photo of herself enjoying the ocean, apparently in the Cayman Islands.
Tom Cruise was also reported to have visited over the holiday season for a dive trip, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter spent New Year’s Eve on Grand Cayman and took a trip to Stingray City.
But the paparazzi and celebrity spotters who follow A-list stars almost everywhere, were noticeable for their absence.
Ron Hargrave, who runs Tukka restaurant, said Ms. Swift and her family did get a bit of extra attention from staff there, but he said everyone recognized and respected that she was on vacation and left her to relax with her mother, father and brother.
The enduring appeal of the Cayman Islands as a destination for celebrities, according to the DoT, is that even mega stars like Ms. Swift can travel here relatively incognito.
“The Cayman Islands has long been known as a destination for celebrities and VIPs to visit without having to face the intrusion of a paparazzi-style coverage regarding their whereabouts and activities during personal downtime in their lives,” said Jay Ehrhart of the DoT.
He said that approach, mirrored by hoteliers and restaurateurs as well as by the public at large, encourages more celebrity visitors to choose Cayman.
Pilar Bush, a former director of tourism, said the industry has pursued a deliberate strategy of playing it cool as far as celebrity visitors are concerned.
She acknowledged that countries like the Bahamas get some mileage in terms of destination marketing when celebrities are pictured on the pages of the Daily Mail or People magazine, enjoying holidays in the sun.
But she believes Cayman has cache as a destination where stars know they can relax without anyone making a fuss.
“They can come here and have a vacation just like anyone else,” she said. “That’s been a deliberate strategy in tourism for a while, but I also think it speaks to the attitude of the people here. We are quite used to seeing famous or very wealthy people, so someone like Mark Cuban can be having a coffee in the lobby of The Ritz Carlton and we won’t think twice about it.”
Mr. Hargrave said he thought the Swift family appreciated the fact that the other diners left them alone.
“They were interested in Cayman and loved their unique dining experience. I definitely think it was because we didn’t make a big deal about who they were, and everyone there that night who recognized her respected the fact they were on vacation and wanted to relax.
“No one hassled her for a photo or signing something. I got the general vibe from the full restaurant last Monday night that it was a privilege to see Taylor and dine with her. It was a family affair with Taylor dining with her mum, dad and brother, just like any other family on vacation.”
Ms. Swift arrived with two bodyguards and later posted a photo of the trip on social media, so Mr. Hargrave feels fairly confident she was the real thing and not an imposter – like the Jack Nicholson impersonator who fooled staff at the Tortuga Rum factory into believing he was the famous actor during a visit in October.
The professional impersonator signed autographs and even posed for pictures, including one which appeared on the front page of the Cayman Compass.