Chamber members have mixed reviews on port proposal

The Chamber of Commerce Council, based on polls of its member businesses, said Tuesday that it supports continued development of the cruise sector and cargo port, but stopped short of supporting the current cruise berthing proposal. 

A majority of the businesses who responded support the berthing proposal, but many of those called for more environmental studies and mitigating the damage to the reefs in the area. 

In comments submitted to the Department of Environment on the most recent report, the Chamber called on government and the environmental report consultant to give more detailed information on the area of coral that could be destroyed and specifics on the cost to move the coral and mitigate the environmental damage. 

The environmental impact assessment for the cruise berthing proposal, released in June, states 15 acres of reef habitat could be destroyed and another 15 to 20 acres could be impacted by construction. The Chamber Council, in a statement, says that the environment should be protected, but that must be balanced with keeping Cayman competitive as a cruise destination. 

Summarizing its position, the Council writes, “The cruise ship industry and the cargo port are important economic drivers and contribute positively and substantially to economic development, attract millions of dollars in foreign exchange and provide necessary government revenue, jobs and private sector investment. The Chamber Council supports the further development of the cruise sector and improvements to the cargo port as essential infrastructure initiatives.” 

The council asked its more than 600 member businesses about the berthing proposal. The Chamber said 67 members responded. Of the 12 businesses directly related to the cruise industry, nine supported the proposal and three wanted tendering to continue. 

Of the respondents from other industries, 27 said the port should continue tendering cruise passengers and improve facilities on the shore, 18 called for more studies but support the port, and 10 said to move ahead with the current proposal. The rest either did not respond or were undecided. 

In the comments from those who responded to the survey, the names of whom the Chamber kept anonymous, the poll shows a wide diversity of opinion. 

One comment said Cayman should do better with stay-over tourists: “Cayman’s focus should be more on long-stay tourists. There is great competition and more coming from Cuba and so we need to greatly improve our tourism marketing, product and service to be known as first class.” 

Another comment said Cayman should focus on attracting fewer ships with high-end passengers. “I would only support a lower volume, higher-end cruise tourism, which may spend more per head and have lower environmental impact. The current level or increased levels are wrong for Cayman in the medium and long term (and right for a few select persons in the near term),” the commenter wrote in the Chamber report. 

But several commenters in the survey wondered about Cayman’s place in the cruise industry if it does not add the new infrastructure: “Cayman is the only sizable cruise port in the Caribbean without berthing facilities. Competition amongst ports is getting more significant and Cayman is complacent that the cruise lines will keep coming here. A number of external factors will change the nature of the cruise industry over the next 10 to 20 years and Cayman could be a big loser.” 

Many of the respondents called for more information on the actual costs of the project, potential job losses, details about economic impacts, and more information on environmental damage in the harbor. 

Cruise ship passengers who arrive in Cayman are taken to shore by tender boats.
Cruise ship passengers who arrive in Cayman are taken to shore by tender boats. – Photo: Chris Court