Record year for tourism

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.

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  1. I’m not sure how much comfort should be derived from these figures because behind the hype (Mr Whorms statement seems to me to be nothing but meaningless jargon) some of the trends these figures show are not encouraging and others are unclear.

    To start off with can anyone explain why has it taken 15 years to bring flight arrivals back to their 2000 levels? Even allowing for the impact of Ivan that’s a very long time to reverse a downward trend.

    Next it’s worth looking at the detailed arrival figures.

    In 2000 16,174 people arrived from the UK. In 2014 that figure had, even with an increase of 659 on the 2013 stats, fallen to 14,910. So much for stunts like chalking stingrays on London Streets?

    Then take arrivals from Europe. It looks like quite an impressive jump from 6416 in 2000 to 21,495 in 2014 but is it? In 2000 four major European countries were specifically featured in the figures but they have since been replaced by what is described as Continental Europe. This lumps together over 40 countries including Russia. So although arrivals in this general category have more than tripled we can’t actually pick up any trends here. In fact part of the increase could simply be arrivals that have been moved from the Other category (which is actually lower than 2000) into the new Continental Europe totals.

    Moving back across the Atlantic to Canada, which should be a key market, arrivals have gone from 15,003 in 2000 to 24,908 in 2014, an increase of roughly 10,000. However, in Cuba annual Canadian arrivals have recently passed the 1 million mark. In 2000 that figure was just over 307,000 so we are losing ground here.

    The figures from the USA aren’t all good news either. Visitor numbers from the Midwest are still down on 2000 and arrivals from the West Coast are at roughly the same level as they were in 2000.

    In addition the stats are very general so it’s impossible to separate arriving passengers staying as paying guests in hotels from those visiting friends or relatives and those who own property here. There’s also no way of sifting out people arriving as tourists for a brief stopover before using the Cayman Islands as a backdoor route into Cuba. That’s a trend that has increased significantly since the 2000 arrivals figures were compiled.

    I’ll concede it’s encouraging but in the absence of a far more detailed analysis you might want to hold off cracking open any bottles of champagne in celebration just yet.

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