Building new cruise piers in George Town would mean significant further investment would be required, both from government and the private sector to ensure the country can cope with the additional influx of passengers.
Government has committed an estimated $20 million investment in the road network around George Town.
The environmental impact assessment and outline business case both identified investment in the capital as essential for the impact of cruise piers to be maximized.
The environmental impact assessment also highlighted a coral relocation project, at a minimum cost of $13 million, as a crucial additional expense to mitigate the environmental damage that would be caused in the harbor if the project goes ahead.
Former director of tourism Pilar Bush believes any investment in cruise berthing would have to be integrated into a long-term strategic plan to improve the island’s tourism product.
“If Cayman wants to remain a leading cruise destination, cruise berthing is important in the long term. Cruise tourism needs to be part of a well thought out tourism framework and strategy, one that ensures the stay over guest experience is not negatively impacted by cruise tourism and vice versa; and that the residents are not negatively impacted by a surge in cruise numbers.
“The cost of the cruise berthing infrastructure is not the only cost we need to look at. We need to look at improving the island’s carrying capacity especially if cruise passenger numbers are projected to exceed 2 million and with berthing, these larger numbers will remain on shore longer. What will that do to traffic, the pressure on our beaches and Stingray City?
“Cruise tourism doesn’t exist in a vacuum, especially on a small island such as Grand Cayman. It needs a destination management plan to optimize the competing needs of stay-over visitors, cruise visitors, residents and increasingly, vacation home owners.”
Ken Hydes, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said investment would be required, particularly in George Town, if the project goes ahead.
“With or without the development of cruise berthing facilities, there is a need for the overall development [of the] George Town business district that includes the involvement of all major stakeholders. These improvements would include traffic management, activation programming and rezoning to allow for mixed use, among other things.”
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the concept of building cruise piers, for the PPM government, had always been as part of a wider revitalization of George Town.
If the pier project does go ahead, he believes both government and the private sector will have time to make the necessary upgrades to handle the expected influx of passengers.
“We have had 1.9 million passengers before, the best case scenario talks about 2.3 million. It gives us time to get to that number and to expand our attractions to meet that demand,” he said.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the government’s position is that cruise and stay-over tourism could co-exist.
“It is not a case of either/or. The country benefits from both,” he said.
So far no one from government has put a dollar figure on the knock-on costs of cruise berthing.
Engineering consultants Mott McDonald, in a 2013 study that formed part of the outline business case for cruise berthing, highlighted concerns about the impact on Cayman’s main “honeypot” tourist attractions of Seven Mile Beach and Stingray City.
“The balance between two visitor types remains one of the overriding issues raised by tourism stakeholders in the Cayman Islands. One side sees a large volume of relatively low-spending cruise visitors deterring stay-over visitors and seriously diminishing the quality of the experience for everyone. Another side sees the growth of cruises as a chance to create additional wealth and opportunities for local entrepreneurs,” that report stated.
It adds: “The carrying capacity of the natural environment and nature-based tourism attractions is limited, and may struggle to cope with potential increased intensity of use arising from tourists spending a longer time on shore. Mott MacDonald has not been provided with any studies or information in order to gauge the carrying capacity.”