Cayman Airways has dropped its seasonal flight to Panama, with government signaling a switch in policy from attempting to attract new tourists from South America.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the country was focusing on its core markets as well as attempting to open up access, through Dallas, to “pockets of wealth” on the west coast of the U.S.
He said the tourism budget had been cut by 30 percent and the funds were not available to make speculation in South America successful.
“Strategically we would like to be reaching out to that new South American market, but for the next 12-month period we have taken our resources and we are looking at strengthening our core market,” he said during a Finance Committee hearing on Cayman Airways annual budget.
He suggested that tourism industry figureheads, who partner with the DoT, on marketing and promotion of the island were currently more interested in tapping into the U.S. west coast market.
The Panama flight ran at a small $60,000 profit, Mr. Kirkconnell said in response to questions from opposition leader McKeeva Bush.
“We believe we can take that plane and move it to another gateway and have a better return on investment for the country,” Mr. Kirkconnell said.
He acknowledged that American Airlines was now opening a route from Dallas into Grand Cayman on Saturdays – the same day as Cayman Airways. He said CAL’s schedule was already in place and could not be changed in response, though that could happen eventually.
He said the route was good news because the aim was to maximize flights from Dallas to increase profits for the island.
Cayman Airways plans to start running direct flights between Miami, Cayman Brac and the coastal city of Holguin in eastern Cuba, in the next financial year.
Fabian Whorms, president of the airline, said he did not believe the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba would negatively impact plans to open up the route.
He said the number of seats available for people in the U.S. to get to Cuba was currently at less than 10 percent of the demand.
“It is actually an early stage in the game,” said Mr. Whorms.
He said any easing of travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba would actually work in CAL’s favor in the short term because larger airlines would not be able to “switch capacity” to meet demand. Mr. Kirkconnell said the route would help Cayman attract new business from tourists making dual destination trips.
Legislators approved a total of $22 million in appropriations to the airline. These include $2.85 million for the domestic service to the Brac and Little Cayman, $14.5 million for “strategic tourism” routes and a $5.1 million equity injection to help address past debt.