The Cayman Islands saw a 10 percent increase in stay-over tourism during 2014, the best year on record for the industry.
More than 380,000 tourists touched down at the Owen Roberts International Airport. Cruise tourism was also up, by 16 percent, with just over 1.6 million visitors arriving on Cayman’s shores.
“It has been a wonderful experience throughout 2014 to witness the success of tourism businesses continuing to climb throughout the year. Hotels recorded exceptional occupancy, taxi drivers were consistently busy, and we have seen growth throughout the sector,” said Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell.
The previous record year was 2000, when more than 354,000 tourists visited the Cayman Islands. No comparable figures exist prior to 2000, according to the Department of Tourism.
The positive figures represent a general upward trend for the industry across the Caribbean in 2014, as the U.S. – the main source of tourists for the region – continued to recover from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. With the exception of Bermuda and St. Vincent, every country in the region saw an increase in arrivals.
Cayman outperformed many of its competitor islands. Only the Turks and Caicos Islands and Belize saw comparable increases in arrival figures, according to an analysis of statistics from 27 islands by the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Tourism officials hailed the influence of Cayman Airways for helping to boost arrival figures.
Paul Tibbetts, chief financial officer of Cayman Airways, said the national carrier transported a record total of just over 412,000 passengers in 2014.
“This accomplishment, and the corresponding growth in the country’s visitor arrivals, was achieved not by chance, but as a result of the airline strategically working with the Cayman Islands government, the Department of Tourism and other stakeholders in the Cayman Islands to increase overnight visitors,” he said.
Fabian Whorms, CEO of the national airline, said its strategic direct flights, which the government finances through annual grants, were central to the success of the tourism industry.
“Our non-stop flights strategically provide a level of convenience and affordability that significantly drives incremental passengers,” Mr. Whorms said. “These strategic flights not only drive incremental room nights, providing benefits to the local hotels, attractions and restaurants, but also provide a huge positive economic impact on the entire economy by way of the multiplier effect associated with the direct and in-direct spending of our visitors.”
Air arrivals are considered the key metric for the health of the industry because stay-over tourists spend significantly more money on island in hotels, restaurants, shops and with tour operators than cruise ship visitors, who spend just a few hours in port.
Mr. Kirkconnell says government is focusing on both sectors and is equally encouraged by the increase in cruise arrivals, which help provide the volume of visitors that help sustain small businesses, including taxi firms and tour operators.
The increase in arrivals at the port had been anticipated because of a redeployment of cruise vessels to the region sparked by economic issues in Europe and political turmoil in Egypt.
The Cayman Islands government believes investment in permanent cruise facilities in George Town harbor will help Cayman sustain that increase in arrival figures and move up the list of Caribbean destination visited by cruise passengers.
The government’s tourism councilor, Joey Hew, said, “The planned improvements for the cruise port and George Town should increase visitation to allow us to easily move into the number two spot on that list in a very short time.”
Rosa Harris, director of the Department of Tourism, said an innovative approach to marketing had also helped boost arrivals.
She said direct marketing initiatives, including taking Stingray City to the streets of London with a mobile piece of chalk artwork, had helped create a buzz about the destination.