New dock 'critical' to Cayman's future

Business leaders say cruise decline would cost jobs


A group of Grand Cayman business leaders has warned the island will be frozen out of the cruise industry if a new dock is not built in George Town. 

Government is facing calls to abandon plans for a $150 million berthing facility after a report revealed the environmental costs to coral reefs and the potential economic damage to the diving and snorkeling industry in the capital. 

But business owners who rely on cruise passengers say the consequences of doing nothing could be far worse. 

Robert Hamaty, the owner of Tortuga Rum Company, said a serious decline in cruise tourist arrivals would have grave consequences for jobs in the territory. 

“This is a critical decision for the future of this country. If a port is not built, then the next generation and the following generation are going to suffer tremendously,” he said. 

Gerry Kirkconnell, managing director of Kirk Freeport, said the cruise lines had indicated clearly that they would reduce their operations in Cayman if a dock was not built. 

“Cruise tourism would not disappear completely, but I believe we would see arrivals drop to a million or less. 

“If we lose 600,000 tourists, businesses are going to lose out anyway and it won’t just be water sports business in George Town. It will be everyone from taxi drivers to retailers and Stingray City tours.” 

Kirk Freeport, which does significant trade with cruise passengers in its jewelry stores, currently employs 220 people. 

Chris Kirkconnell, the company’s vice-president of operations, said that could change very quickly if the dock did not go ahead. 

“We have gone into our reserves to keep our shops open and to keep people employed,” he said. “If we heard today there was not going to be a dock, then there would be a drastic drop in our operations. Over the years we could drop as much as 50 percent.” 

Mr. Hamaty, whose company employs 120 people, said he closed four outlets when cruise tourism dipped in the wake of the global recession. He said he would like to reopen and expand again, but he believes building a dock is the only way to ensure the resurgence in passenger numbers is maintained. 

“It is not me I am fighting for. We are fighting for the business for our employees.” 

Last year, 1.6 million tourists visited Cayman on cruise ships. Numbers dipped to below 1.4 million in 2013. The businesses believe that successful lobbying of the cruise industry that a dock was in the works, along with the economic climate in Europe, is behind the recent revival. 

“A couple of years ago George Town was a ghost town. The numbers have picked up and everybody has forgotten that. The businesses have become complacent,” said Mr. Hamaty. 

According to Department of Tourism surveys, cruise tourists spend an average of $90 each on the island. Mr. Kirkconnell said the value of cruise tourism is being grossly underestimated by those who oppose the port project. 

“There is no question about the economic value of the cruise industry. You would have to be blind not to see it,” he said. 

Mr. Hamaty and Mr. (Gerry) Kirkconnell, who is also deputy director of the Port Authority, were members of the now defunct Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism. 

Along with other businessmen in George Town and beyond, they are attempting to band together again to show support for the dock project in the face of growing opposition. The vast majority of people at a public meeting last week strongly opposed the dock. 

Ronnie Anglin of Captain Marvin’s Watersports said he felt the meeting was dominated by “environmentalists” and was not representative of the wider public view. 

Matt Bishop of Island Companies said, “This group of people has a vested interest in the environment. Without the clear water, the coral reefs and the best beach in the world, people are not going to come here. There is a balance that has to be struck. We need to make sure as a business community that our voice is heard too.” 

Chris Kirkconnell said the country is already missing out on the larger Oasis class cruise ships, and statistically bigger spending passengers, because it does not have a dock. 

He said the emergence of Cuba as a player in the industry and the construction of new ports across the region have the potential to seriously harm Cayman’s place in the industry. 

“You can’t take a donkey to a horse race,” he said. 

Mr. Hamaty


  1. To the few self interested that see that the cruise ship dock is the answer, it would serve you, but could destroy the whole Island. Has any of who want to have the cruise ship dock, got any contractual agreement with the cruise lines , that says that if we build the cruise ship dock and destroy our natural environment that they would not go to Cuba. Let me say no. Remember that the cruise lines need destinations , so keep it clean, crime free, and attractive, and the cruise lines and the people would always want to come to Cayman Islands.

  2. And how many jobs will be lost when the coral is gone?

    Cruise ships will continue to come, especially once Cuba opens up because Cayman is a logical stop before/after Cuba. But as another commenter said, once coral is gone, it’s gone forever.

    Building the pier is totally shortsighted; not in the best interests of Cayman long term.

  3. A new dock might be critical to the increased profits of a few downtown merchants.

    It is certainly not critical to anyone else.

    Except in the negative sense. It is critical we DO NOT build something that will destroy our environment.

    I remember 30 years ago SCUBA diving at Eden Rocks just a few yards from George Town harbor. The reef was pristine. Alive with colorful corals and fish.

    Now it is mostly bleached, dead rock. This is just a taste of what will happen to the rest of that side of the island if this goes ahead.

    Say NO and NEVER sell out this country for short term profits.

    And by the way, 30 years ago this country managed just fine without cruise ships and George Town actually was a city that local people visited.

  4. George Town is already a ghost town. Go there after 6pm and see how many people are about. It’s been decimated by the relentless growth in jewelry and perfume shops, to the exclusion of any real businesses which real people might wish to use.

    If we make George Town even more soulless and desolate with a massive cruise dock, what will be left of the Cayman that people actually want to see?

  5. I don’t believe anyone is against the Cruise Pier itself. I believe that most people just don’t think it’s worth the risk of all the damage to the priceless marine environment if built in that area, not to mention the huge financial investment when Cayman is already so far in the red.

    The only way for the CIG to be thorough would be to actually investigate and consider alternate locations for the pier or new technologies to build it.

    The biggest question still is why does it have to be in GT, for 150 Million you could build a new cruise pier somewhere else where the water is deeper along with enough upland development to offer opportunity to the businesses that rely on the cruise industry. Georgetown can be revitalized, residentialized and turned in into a bustling downtown mecca where people work, Live and Play and a shuttle from the new dock location could easily transport people to the capitol who want go, right now all the do is walk around aimlessly shopping for that special tee shirt or Shot Glass in the hot sun with hardly a shady Park like area to relax in. All the Cruise centric businesses can move to the new site if they desire and those properties converted to restaurants, Bars, residential units such as condos, apartments and even small offices..people would stay in the area after work and frequent the area restaurants at lunch and dinner.

    Sorry but I think the primary reason it’s only focused on being in GT is due to those with special interests in that area that seem too have the CIG’s ear or maybe more. But I won’t speak on that as I would not like to be turned around the next time I come through immigration and accused of being out of line with the CIG’s policy on speaking ones mind or voicing ones opinion..

  6. Quote – the cruise lines had indicated clearly that they would reduce their operations in Cayman if a dock was not built.

    Well that is a rather different picture from the one the cruise lines themselves are painting. To date they appear to have shown absolutely zero interest in the project. This is in marked contrast to what is going on at other destinations where they are pouring millions of dollars into new facilities like Labadee in Haiti.

    In fact this is all a very old debate. I remember discussing it in the Seaview around 18 years ago as the number of cruise ships was increasing. At the time there was a popular myth that the more arrivals you had the more money the shops in GT would make.

    What staff working in those stores said was that in reality there was a saturation point at which the cruise shippers stopped spending money and just wandered round. Their best days were when only one or two cruise ships arrived and it then got progressively worse as the numbers increased. On days when five or six ships arrived many of them said it was hardly worth going into work.

    What we are reading here looks horribly like comments from local businessmen who have just not done their homework.

  7. As David says the Cruise lines aren’t showing much interest, I believe it’s because they are sick of dealing with bureaucrats in Cayman and all the changing of minds and backing out of deals made here. As for the cruise shipper shopping habits, yeah you can only buy so many tee shirts and shot glasses and most aren’t going to spend 45 bucks per person to see a bunch of turtles crowded in to dirty pools, 100 bucks to take a photo with a dolphin or even 50 bucks for a taxi ride to 7 mile beach and I am quite sure that your first trip to Hell will be your last. This is why you see so many of them walking around aimlessly looking for something to do or just somewhere to relax in a shady area and enjoy the Caymanian atmosphere.

  8. When is the last time that anyone noticed any Caymanians in any of these jobs? Also, are any of these "business leaders" putting any of their own money forward to build this new dock?

  9. When tourists arrive in large numbers they inevitably place stresses on the destination. They can overwhelm infrastructure as well as cause impacts on the society, economy and environment of a destination.
    Pollutants and waste from cruise passengers on land include waste water, hazardous waste and solid waste. It is estimated that an average cruise ship will generate a minimum of 1kg of solid waste plus two bottles and two cans, per passenger per day and an average of 50 ton of sewage .
    The average cruise ship now exceeds 2000 passengers and 1000 crew.
    More cruise ships will require more water and sewage facilities to handle the tourist numbers.
    While there may be some benefits to some sectors, these types of shops may not see significant gains.
    -Restaurants may get little custom as tourists return to the ship to eat food they have already paid for.
    -Liquor stores may sell little, as most ships do not permit purchases for consumption on board .
    -General merchandise: While some purchase of general items may occur (snacks, toiletries, hats, film, items forgotten) this is unlikely to be significant.

  10. Michael, I think it goes a bit further than simple bureaucracy and indecision.

    Some years ago one of the major UK/European tour operators looked at Grand Cayman as another potential all-inclusive destination on this region. As we can all see this got exactly nowhere, in fact about that time another large UK holiday company decided to remove the Cayman Islands from its brochures completely.

    According to someone I used to drink with (good old Seaview again) what killed all this was plain old arrogance. The attitude that representatives of multi-million dollar tour operators encountered in CIG boiled down to a mixture of we are doing you a huge favour by even talking to you, we are the experts here you have no idea what you are doing and what do I get out this?

    If you treat people like that they go elsewhere and I suspect this is why there is no cruise line interest in the dock. If a few years back CIG had gone to someone like Royal Caribbean with a realistic game plan rather than trying to get the Chinese on board things might have worked out differently.

    The problem now is the cruise lines are focussed on Cuba. Trust me dealing with a cash starved (I was working in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s) communist country is a doddle compared with CIG and the people who run the cruise lines know that.

  11. I’m not against the cruise port because GT and the local economy will benefit from Tourist spending.

    Now that the government has produced an EIA and received public input, this data should be used to revisit the cruise port design so coral damage is minimized (reduce its footprint and/or reorient it). Also consider removing the large area which can be used for upland retail in the future. This will reduce the cost of the project and coral damage. Whichever cruise company is at the negotiating table may be asking for this which will undercut GT businesses.

  12. What precisely is the direct financial benefit to Government from cruise ship visitors ? Let’s take the hypothetical figure of $90 per head spent on T-shirts, "Trips", food/drink etc.. In the absence of a Sales Tax, presumably CIG gets no benefit from this sales revenue.
    The only quantifiable revenue they appear to receive is the "Landing Fee" for passengers , or whatever is its official description, and perhaps a berthing fee from the cruise ship companies. What is the per capita charge – how, and by whom is it collected, and are fees receivable up to date. What is the actual amount of revenue generated annually.

  13. I have to agree with you David. It is obvious that the mentality in Cayman is that it is the center of the world and by far the best and most exclusive destination in the Caribbean has the best beaches in the world and those who step foot on the island even if just for a moment have been blessed. The problem is that most if not all people with heavy pocket are not going to deal with that attitude for long and look elsewhere. Unfortunately most people here believe that Cayman has no need for any kind of assistance from the outside world, not of the investment made by Non Caymanians were needed or even helped the island economy and get it where is today. Sad fact is that this attitude will eventually cause you to find yourself by yourself. Although this seems to be what most want.

    I have to admit, that even growing up in the US as a person of a darker complexion if you know what I mean, I have never been faced with so much bigotry than what I see and deal with in Cayman.

    I am sure I will get told to leave and go back to where I came from and that I am not wanted or needed here just for offering my opinion, because that is the standard Caymanian response to anything Non-Caymanian

  14. Dear Mr. Hamaty, with all due respect, I remember when you used to "partner" with stay over tourism to grow your product and business. The Tortuga Rum, Cayman Airways, Sunset House, promotion you, Adrien and Mike Adams concocted is still talked about today!
    The Rum Cake Factory tour is one of the most requested by guests of ours, but the underlying sentiment is, "we don’t want to go on a cruise ship day" The Cayman Islands should be about Quality, not Quantity. The stay over tourism product is the demographic that would be more willing to purchase higher end product, but they are chased away by the masses. When things do settle down in town, one would think a hurricane is coming with sound of shutters being pulled down and locks clamping down. Let’s embrace the beauty and the natural resources the sea gives us and if the vendors in downtown George Town needs to look at a different strategy, then that is what they have to do. Sunset House went and reached out to the Kirk Freeport last year to come up with a "Swatch What’s Happening at Sunset House" special that resulted in quite a few "watches", (not t-shirts or shot glasses) being purchased by Sunset House to give to their guests. Bottom line again, and I am sorry if I repeat myself… Quality… Not Quantity.

  15. The likelihood all of us agreeing on this subject it is obviously nil. We all have our opinion and vested interests and I respect and listen to all of them.
    Perhaps the meeting was dominated by the "environmentalists" but I strongly believe without "them" we would not have any turtles, groupers, conchs and blue iguanas left. Sting Ray City, Sand Bar, Star Fish Point would have been crowded and decimated to the point of not return. Without “them” we would not have moorings or the “inconvenient” Marine Park Laws and more. Thanks to them we can still show some natural beauty in the wild instead of caged dolphins, turtles and ran over dead crabs (one day we will find out how important they were!).
    I work with cruise passengers daily; the pay most of my salary. Majority of them do not mind the tender system. And certainly do not agree with sacrificing coral reef to build a dock. In fact the customers will respect us more for siding up with nature.
    With all due respect, I know most cruise passengers do not pin their entire Caribbean experience to a slice of Rum Cake or a duty free watch; they want to see the beauty and uniqueness of each place, they want a clean and safe environment to explore on their own. They will prefer polite taxi drivers, clean sidewalks, and organized pedestrian crossings, easy to move around town design, and shaded walking areas, easier access to the beaches rather than just a cement dock. But overall they want to see the Cayman Islands instead of another cookie cutter destination with same T’s shop and jewelry stores.
    We should worry less about Cuba opening up and more about taking care of what we have and offering a quality natural experience so cruise guests will request us as a destination. It will be a sad day if the only draw to visit us is because of a big cement dock. And that is where we seem to be headed.
    Cruise lines are fickle. Threats of pulling off are part of their repertoire. They will go wherever is convenient for them financially (justifiable so perhaps) and they will not hesitate to drop you from their schedule (especially if you destroy what you had to offer) except in one instance: if their customer base requests the Cayman Islands experience to be part of their Caribbean itinerary.
    May be this is utopia but I much prefer “The Islands that Time forgot” than “Forget the Caymans that we destroyed”