Accordingly, the Cayman Compass Editorial Board’s “official” position on the cruise dock has not been arrived at haphazardly. To the contrary, it is the product of months of observation, analysis and research. We have taken into account recommendations from experts, critiques from opponents and arguments from supporters, and have listened to feedback from our journalists who gather information in the course of their duties.
Our conclusion? In order for our cruise tourism sector to remain competitive and viable, Grand Cayman needs cruise berthing. At this juncture, Cayman has the opportunity to create such a facility, and in a way that ensures that the Cayman people ultimately retain ownership and control over the port’s assets and operations.
Therefore, we offer our full support to government in its endeavors to construct, finally, the cruise dock in George Town harbor. We urge our elected officials to pursue the project responsibly — and expeditiously.
Allow us to elaborate:
We acknowledge that the construction of the cruise dock will result in significant damage to reefs in the downtown harbor. However, that by itself does not merit aborting the project. Of course, every reasonable mitigation strategy should be employed to preserve and protect as much of the underwater environment as possible.
The building of the berthing project does not guarantee — or even necessitate — a substantial increase in cruise visitors. However, because the cruise dock will result in Grand Cayman’s becoming a more attractive cruise destination, it will likely attract more passengers. More importantly, however, is that the dock will accommodate the largest Oasis-class ships, which tend to attract “higher-demographic” passengers who spend more at their ports of call.
On an island as small as ours, we should always strive for “class over mass,” “quality over quantity.”
Often overlooked in the current debate is that the berthing project also includes a badly needed expanded facility for commercial cargo. Consultants estimate that the maximum physical capacity of the cargo port — which is already below-optimal for our population — will be exceeded in the next 10 to 20 years. To relocate the cargo port would be extremely costly (estimates range as high as $200 million) and extremely impactful on the environment. The best option, in our view, is to expand and upgrade the cargo facility in conjunction with the revenue-generating cruise project.
Our two most persistent questions have been 1) whether the government can afford to pay for the cruise dock, and 2) whether the government can bring about the related infrastructure improvements that are necessary to make George Town “camera ready” for future tourists and residents as well.
We are satisfied on both counts.
First, we have seen detailed calculations that demonstrate the feasibility of the government financing the cruise dock, so long as the cost of the project does not balloon far beyond the $150 million estimate, using existing revenues from tender fees and a modest growth in passenger head taxes — with little to no loss in income to government.
Second, we are familiar with beautification plans (prefaced by the current expansions and improvements to George Town roadways) that will result in the rebirth of downtown as an inviting pedestrianized attraction — for tourists and residents alike.
Finally, we cannot ignore consultants’ estimates that the new cruise port will create nearly 1,000 jobs and inject $250 million or more into the local economy over 20 years. That, to us, is an important reason for pursuing the project. It will improve the financial well-being of residents whose livelihoods depend upon steady business from cruise ships, it will beautify and reinvigorate our downtown and, by extension, it will improve the quality of life for everyone in Cayman.