Cruise berthing: Where is its proper place?

As the finer details of cruise berthing in George Town have begun to come into focus, accordingly the two sides, for and against the proposal, have begun to coalesce.

But before the situation crystallizes into an intractable conflict, and perhaps becomes characterized by personalities, politics and ideologies, rather than pragmatism, we think it is instructive to take several steps back and consider the idea, and the reality, within a broader context.

How, and where, does cruise berthing fit in with plans for downtown, Grand Cayman’s tourism strategy, and the Cayman Islands’ lengthy list of major capital projects and other priorities?

In regard to the cruise berthing proposal currently on the table, we have on one side a group of proponents pointing to estimates of 1,000 new jobs and an added $250 million or more into the local economy over 20 years. On the other side, we have a group of opponents pointing to predictions of the destruction or degradation of coral reef and dive sites, leading to an economic loss of about $100 million to $165 million over 20 years.

The table having been set, local businessman and former Chamber of Commerce President Johann Moxam introduces the relevant topic of discussion: “Are the costs — economic, environmental and social costs — worth the benefits?”

From our standpoint, it’s a close call — too close, at the moment, for us to issue an “up or down” assessment for what would constitute a public investment of some $150 million or more (since we’re dealing with government, probably more … maybe a lot more).

So allow us to take some time and survey the rest of the room.

How does cruise berthing fit in with a vision for a revitalized downtown George Town? If we go forward with the cruise dock, then presumably cruise tourism is the future of downtown. Can “new urbanist,” mixed-use residential/commercial development coexist with throngs of tourists in the shadow of massive ships? Does the cruise dock preclude such a transformation? Is such development desirable or possible, in the absence of a dock?

What role, and how prominent a role, does Cayman want cruise visitors to play in our overall tourism strategy? Is there a “critical mass” where cruise tourism actually acts as a deterrent to stay-over tourism? Or is more of both always better because cruise passengers feed the businesses that cater to people who arrive by airplane, and vice versa?

If we have to choose, which is our priority: pursuing the US$55 million Owen Roberts International Airport project, or the $150 million-plus cruise dock?

We as a country have limited public resources — in terms of money, manpower, ministerial management and time. Meanwhile, ever-battling for those resources are a seemingly unlimited number of projects and proposals that also stake strong claims to immediacy and importance, for instance: the George Town landfill, Grand Cayman’s wastewater system, Grand Cayman’s airport, road upgrades (including improvements in and around downtown that consultants say are needed to make cruise berthing successful), the East-West Arterial extension, street maintenance, a proper mental health facility, new correctional facilities, the unfinished John Gray High School construction project, the delivery of primary and secondary education, University College of the Cayman Islands, the new courthouse, a new police headquarters, etc.

With budgetary constraints and the next election less than two years away, our government must focus on doing a few things correctly, rather than many all at once, if we are to accomplish a single one of them.

The proposed cruise berthing facility is a very large, ambitious and high-profile project that will make a lasting impact on Cayman, presumably in many ways for better, but also perhaps for worse. The question we ask at this time is, given the pros and cons, and the wider context, where does the cruise dock rank among other costly capital projects and major initiatives that are also in Cayman’s “need” category?


  1. I think the most relevant question relating to this issue is prompted by a comment in the story you ran yesterday under the headline, Warning over Cuba emergence.

    That story states that the major cruise companies have a well-established track record of successfully investing in new port infrastructure, and quickly establishing new or improved ports of call.

    If you look around the region you can see just how true that statement is, which raises an obvious question. Why is it not happening here?

    If the dock is, as some people are claiming, so important to the cruise lines future plans why are they not coming forward with any funding for it?

    It is hardly rocket science to figure out the obvious reason for this is because they, or more importantly their major shareholders, can see no profit in it.

    Which raises another question. If major, profit driven players like Carnival and Royal Caribbean cannot see the dock producing a viable financial return why are we even talking about building it?

    I would respectfully suggest that a better heading for this editorial might have been, Where are the cruise lines?

  2. I would say that if those politicians that do want the cruise ship dock,they should hold their arms out and let the cruise ship dock, that way for sure would be less destruction to the Islands

  3. Well 150 million today in Cayman doesn’t seem to be a lot of money . Look at what we spent so far, one high school 100 million so far no actual profit. Necessary but none that will pay for the upkeep for the school. The new admin. building 106? million ,necessary but no profit very expensive upkeep.

    On the other hand diving companies going out on a daily basis. On the west side of the island have the potential of going to dive sites on 8 miles of reef. 22miles of North coast reef, 4 1/2 miles of East End reef and of course 22 miles of south coast reef . All guaranteeing them a dive site no matter what the weather is except for hurricanes.

    Plus their business is going down. Most likely due to global warming and the reefs are bleaching? Isn’t this what environmentalists argue any time they want to stop development? Lowly paid Dive Instructors who work very hard to please their guests.But no Caymanian Dive Instructors being taught or hired?

    We have 500 taxi and Tour bus drivers which means plus wife and 2 children added will impact 2000 people . We have 30 stingray boats 90 plus wife and children, 360 people . How many people have been sent to Turtle Farm, Botanical Park or Pedro St James. Do you think that they won’t get a boost and less subsidy from our taxes(license fees)? Well talk to any of the people I’m talking about and ask if just hotels and condos can keep them going.

    When one looks at the money needed to keep our social and economic island going it will be cruise ships increasing and coming to Cayman that will pay for these bills. Where you put it doesn’t really matter. Something will have to be lost to be gained. What we have to do now is stop the procrastination, ships companies work on 2 years ahead for their scheduling. Otherwise we will have to beg them to bring in the newer ships.
    So lets build it in George Town
    Please print this letter in the newspaper also thank you

  4. Once again the editorial board needs to do some better homework.
    The PWC reports shows an impact of an increase in CI $1,196 M over 20 years, that’s $1.2 BILLION not $250 Million as stated above.
    Secondly, it has never been said that there is a choice between the airport and the cruise pier. Both of these projects bring revenue into the country and have solid business cases behind them. Comparing it to a non-revenue generating asset like a school or Admin building is very misleading.

    ***Editor’s note: "When the wider economic impact was considered, including tourist spending at businesses around the island, the consultants predicted an overall economic gain of $250 million.
    That estimate was based on an anticipated decline in arrivals of 1 percent per year, bottoming out at 1 million if no action was taken, compared with a 1 percent annual increase up to a maximum of 2.3 million passengers if the new piers are built. When the consultants considered an “upside” scenario using a 3 percent growth and decline rate, they predicted an economic benfit of $1,196 million over 20 years from the piers."–Cruise-piers-will-boost-economy/

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