Lifetime achievement award for hotel owner Kel Thompson


From flying tourists to the island as one of Cayman Airways’ youngest ever captains, to hosting them at his East End hotel resort, Kel Thompson was recognized for three decades of service to the island’s tourism industry. 

Mr. Thompson, owner of the Reef Resort, now rebranded as Wyndham, and founder of the Century 21 Real Estate firm, was the winner of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s lifetime achievement award at the organization’s annual Stingray Awards gala on Tuesday. 

“I would never have thought in my wildest imagination, I would have ever been thought about for such a thing,” said Mr. Thompson, who has been involved in various developments around the islands. 

He said he was grateful for the honor and hopeful for the future of Cayman’s tourism industry. 

“Tourism is doing pretty good at the moment but this is a touch-and-go business in Cayman because of the cost of doing business compared with rival destinations in the region.” 

Mr. Thompson, also a former managing director of Cayman Airways, believes the redevelopment of the airport is key to the future of the industry. But he would also like to see the runway expanded to accommodate long-haul flights from Europe and further afield. “Tourists from Europe would stay longer and spend more money. The only thing I don’t like about them is that we are not getting any.” 

A consultant’s report on the airport suggested the runway expansion should not be an immediate priority. Government’s current plan involves expansion of the terminal buildings at Owen Roberts International Airport. 

Mr. Thompson welcomes those improvements but believes broadening Cayman’s market beyond the U.S. is essential. 

“The idea that we don’t need a longer runway because we have not tapped into that market yet is a crazy thing to say. As long as we have a 7,000 foot runway, we are not going to get jets that require a runway of 9,200 feet.” 

Mr. Thompson, who opened the Reef Resort in 2000, recently oversaw the rebranding of the business as a Wyndham property in March this year. “Business has been doing OK. Unlike a lot of hotels, we weathered the storm and we think being a part of the Wyndham brand is going to make us strong for the future.” 

Despite those achievements, Mr. Thompson believes his proudest moment in tourism was becoming a captain at Cayman Airways at 26. 

“I think being a captain at Cayman Airways at such an early age was a great honor and something I really enjoyed.”  

The winners of the 2015 Cayman Stingray Tourism Awards were: 


Manager: Shelly Ann Myrie, Silver Rain a La Prairie Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman 

Employee: Fernando Yorke, Southern Cross Club. 


Manager: Joelle McCrae, Cayman Turtle Farm 

Employee: Damion Francis, Majestic Tours. 


Manager: Carol Boulton, Rum Point Club 

Employee: Juliet Bucknal, Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. 

Water sports 

Manager: Sarah-Jane Whitehill, Red Sail Sports 

Employee: Tony Chisholm, Seasports Diving 

Long Service: Sadie Chollette, Plantana Condominiums 

Rising Star: Sarah Hydes, Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. 

Kel Thompson, center, receives a lifetime achievement award from Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell, left, and Cayman Islands Tourism Association president Ken Hydes at the 2015 Stingray Tourism Awards.


The Stingray Tourism Awards recipients and presenters at Tuesday night’s awards ceremony.


  1. Mr Thompson is obviously correct to state that you need a longer runway to bring in direct flights from Europe and also in his observation that tourists from the Europe tend to favour fairly long vacations. In the UK the average is around 10 days with many people opting for two weeks.

    What I would be rather less than supportive of is his contention that European travellers tend to spend more money. Trust me tourists from the UK and Europe are probably some of the most value for money conscious people on this planet and that is the real problem on the Cayman Islands right now.

    Over the last decade the all-inclusive holiday market has pretty much taken over in the UK and Europe. This allows tourists to pay the bulk of their holiday costs up front. Before even leaving home they know the flights, transfers, hotel, meals and drinks have been paid for quite often along with entertainment and some activities. This means that, as an example, they can spend two weeks in a good hotel or resort in Cuba for not much more that the cost of return flights from London to Grand Cayman. There is now even an on-going price war between the all-inclusive package holiday companies and cruise lines who are offering two-week Caribbean cruises leaving from UK ports with flights back at prices on par with the hotel-based options.

    In comparison Grand Cayman is not only very expensive but really does not have much to offer tourists from the UK and Europe that they cannot find elsewhere much cheaper.

    I just checked some current room rates online. They appear quite reasonable until you add on the hidden extras, another thing that UK and European travellers hate. Hotels over there give them a room rate including the bulk of the extras like VAT. In some countries like Holland you may find the city tax is extra but that is 5.5 per cent so normally under 5 Euros a day. What they do not expect to find is a quoted room rate that does not include resort fees and taxes, extras that could add 50 per cent to the total cost. In fact in the UK that would probably be illegal.

    In many ways Grand Cayman is in Catch-22 here. To handle mass tourism from the UK and Europe ORIA needs a longer runway but in order to fill the planes that might use that facility, hotels have to start offering all-inclusive deals at rates that match the regional competition.

    Sadly, Mr Thompson you are not going to attract many tourists from the UK and Europe if you expect them to pay over 200 dollars a day for all-inclusive as an add-on to a weekly room rate that would already buy them a 7-day all-inclusive vacation with flights somewhere else.