This year’s Alternative Investment Summit takes place on Feb. 12 and 13 at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayan under the topic “A New Vision for a New Age” and will be attracting some of the biggest names in the hedge fund industry to come and talk on the issue of alternative investment, a financial service for which Cayman has carved a particularly successful niche for itself within the global economy.
A key speaker and big draw for delegates will be actor Al Pacino, one of the biggest names in Hollywood, who will no doubt attract standing room only participation.
I believe the Cayman Islands has the ability to attract really big names to its shores because we offer an excellent location where celebrities and other well-known individuals can come and relax, safe in the knowledge that they will not be hassled by the paparazzi or the local public. Never will you find hagglers on the beach pitching their wares or pressuring sun bathers into purchasing something.
Where else in the world can an ex-president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, swim with stingrays enjoying a day out with Cayman’s own Captain Marvin’s tour operator? Or Taylor Swift pop by for lunch? Or Sir Richard Branson enjoy the spectacular undersea world? We take great pride in respecting the privacy of others, famous or not, and that is a huge draw for such individuals, an asset that sets the Cayman Islands apart from the rest of the Caribbean.
Over the years, Cayman has successfully built a reputation as a first-class destination for discerning visitors who relish the opportunity to enjoy a Caribbean destination that’s a home away from home, with high quality infrastructure, telecommunications and other amenities and entertainment. With the slow easing of travel and trade restrictions between Cuba (our very close neighbor) and the United States, there is of course much speculation about how this transition will impact the Cayman Islands. I believe the fact that Cayman has already positioned itself as an excellent vacation location for American holidaymakers looking for a high standard of accommodation and services, already sets it apart from Cuba. I do not see any short- or medium-term impact on our real estate sales industry. This topic of Cuba’s impact on the Cayman Islands is something I will expand upon in a future column.
Another example of Cayman’s ability to position itself for the new age is the fact that we are able to attract the likes of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, who is restructuring his empire and shifting his base to the Cayman Islands. Hong Kong’s richest man, Mr. Li sees the benefits for his investors of moving to such a high quality jurisdiction as ours. But this does not necessarily mean we will be sharing a beer with Mr. Li at Sunset House on a Friday night.
Because of China’s meteoric rise in fortunes in recent years, I am frequently asked whether this is the new market for Cayman property and whether we deliberately market properties directly to Asia. The answer is no, simply because Asia is so geographically inconvenient for Asian people to visit for a vacation, let alone think about buying a vacation property here. We have yet to see any real interest from such buyers, and so we still remain highly focused on the North American market as our traditional source of business. In this way we can concentrate our efforts in successfully meeting our vision for the new age.
More than just a tourist destination
Cayman, however, has developed into much more than just a tourist vacation destination. For those serving the tourism sector or in financial services, it has become and continues to blossom into an idyllic place to live. I’ve commented on our first-class infrastructure, amenities, telecommunications and services that set us apart from the rest of the Caribbean, but we should also tout the beauty of the balance of cultures that can be found in Cayman. This balance is something delicate that must be managed if we are to continue to attract visitors and investors to these islands. Cayman is a place where most people can feel at ease, regardless of race, creed or net worth.
With the increase in population and diversity in culture, Cayman has also developed socially, providing better schools, sports and recreation activities and entertainment as demanded by its highly educated and sophisticated residents, further solidifying Cayman’s positioning as a great place to live. So besides beach-front condominiums targeted to vacationers, Cayman’s “livability” will continue to feed a healthy real estate industry. While we continue down this road of economic and social development, there is one measure that we need to keep a close eye on. No one can argue that Cayman is an expensive place to live relative to the majority of the world, and this is something that must be managed if we are going to avoid the disparities and tense relations that occur in some of our Caribbean neighbors.
Our vision of a new age needs to keep in mind our balance of life, versus cost, and security if we are to continue our first-class positioning.