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.
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.