The Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s announcement late last week that the majority of its members were opposed to the proposed cruise berthing plan has drawn mixed reactions.
CITA announced its opposition to the cruise berthing plan after it conducted a “careful review” of related documentation and assessed the results of a survey sent to its members.
The tourism trade organization, which has more than 200 members, has not released any more details about its survey.
CITA member Robert Hamaty, owner of the Tortuga Rum Company and among those who have been active in the pro-cruise port campaign “Cayman’s Port. Cayman’s Future,” said he was personally surprised by CITA’s announcement last week, noting that statements CITA made in the past had indicated that the organization might be in favor of the plan.
“If this thing is not done, it’s an industry that is going to fail,” Mr. Hamaty said. “If it doesn’t happen now, it’s going to happen in the future.”
He said he hopes CITA will soon disclose the survey results to the members.
The Ministry of Tourism said in a statement Monday that it appreciates CITA’s response.
In its response to CITA’s announcement, the ministry said that in addition to an environmental impact assessment, it has commissioned a “Benthic Habitat Survey,” to provide supplementary information relating to “the habitats within the proposed dredging footprint.” The results of this survey will be made public in mid-August.
The ministry also announced that it had asked PwC to update the outline business case for the cruise berthing proposal with the findings from the environmental impact assessment.
The ministry’s statement also noted that it is looking forward to receiving “the survey feedback” and documentation from CITA’s members.
On July 10, CITA sent out a 10-question survey to its members. Members responding to this survey had to include their name, company name and email address.
On June 17, CITA had sent an email addressed to its “Water Sports Sector members” encouraging members to respond to a Department of Environment questionnaire. At the bottom of the email is a list of links to news stories about the plan and comments from an unknown author, which included: “This has been nicknamed the ‘plume of death’ – very catchy phrase to attract tourism to Cayman waters don’t you think.” CITA recalled the email two hours later. ***
“They withdrew it pretty quickly,” Mr. Hamaty said.
Chris Kirkconnell, vice president of operations for Kirk Freeport, said he brought up the email at a meeting of the “allied and land based attractions” group of CITA members last week.
“When they’re asking you to fill out a survey that should be impartial, they’re giving you this long attachment that goes against berthing,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “They’re helping to predetermine people’s mind-sets before they get the survey.”
Mr. Kirkconnell said that although he initially thought CITA would remain impartial, he is not surprised that CITA opposes the plan since the majority of the organization’s members are focused on stay-over tourism.
Tim Adam, managing director of the Cayman Turtle Farm and the secretary of CITA, said those who read the organization’s statement “should be under no illusion that there were not very strong dissenting opponents within CITA.” Mr. Adam said there were very strong differences among certain sectors of the organization.
“I respect that in the CITA survey, the way the numbers of responses worked out indicate that [among] all the people who actually responded to the survey, there is a majority who said it should not proceed or at this time they should not support it,” Mr. Adam said. “However, that is only a part of the picture and it is only a small subset of information that was gathered by the survey.”
Mr. Adam was featured in a video, posted last week by “Cayman’s Port. Cayman’s Future,” in which he describes why cruise tourism is necessary to sustain the Cayman Turtle Farm.
“Cruise tourism is very much a part of our lifeblood, that we cannot do without if we are to survive as the organization that we are today,” Mr. Adam says in the video.
Keith Sahm, general manager of Sunset House and a member of CITA’s board of directors, said he “completely expected” the tourism association to come out against the plan because “we’re looking at the complete vision of tourism” in Cayman.
Mr. Sahm runs the SaveCayman.org website and has been trying to start a referendum to prevent the cruise berthing development. The group needs 4,624 registered voters to sign up in order to have a referendum. It currently has 465 signatures, but Mr. Sahm says that the Save Cayman group will be focusing its efforts on educating the public about the project and how it will impact reefs.
Photographer Courtney Platt, who has also been active in the SaveCayman.org campaign, said he was only surprised it had taken CITA so long to come out against the plan.
“I was stunned that they didn’t jump at the June 9 environmental impact assessment presentation and start shouting and screaming from the moment this thing was presented,” Mr. Platt said.
He said that while his main interest has been the environment, the more he looks at the plan, the more he believes that “it’s really a poor business plan for the island.”
He said he is happy to see that the people and businesses he believes are going to be negatively affected by the project have finally spoken up.
“It’s very important that businesspeople who will lose speak up against it,” he said.
The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 600 members, has also been surveying its members. It had no comment on the findings of its survey so far, nor did it have a response to CITA’s announcement.
***Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 5 p.m. July 22 to reflect a correction.***