Unlicensed businesses, carelessly discarded trash and dangerous watercraft operations are adding to a “lawless mentality” on Grand Cayman’s Public Beach that residents have warned is in danger of being “destroyed by a growing horde of unlicensed vendors,” according to complaints filed last week with the government’s Ministry of Tourism.

“The very symbol of this beautiful island and the magnet that draws both Caymanians and multitudes of tourists is being destroyed before our very eyes,” read an eight-page letter sent to Tourism Ministry Councilor Joey Hew Friday by the Harbour Heights development’s strata management council and signed by council member Bob Loverd. Harbour Heights is a condominium complex just south of the main Public Beach area.

“The beach … does not seem to be regulated by law [and] government officials do not appear to have the authority to act,” the Harbour Heights letter read, adding that the revamped Public Beach area just south of the under-construction Kimpton hotel seems to have become a haven where “unlicensed vendors aggressively compete with each other to offer a carnival of competing services.”

Over the weekend, the management of the Avalon Condominiums supported the Harbour Heights organization’s comments.

“We too have observed the gradual, but steady increase in commercial activity at the Public Beach, and for the first time in my nearly 20 years of wintering here we have had vendors peddling their wares to people on our beach,” said Warren Nock, chairman of the condo management strata. “The beach experience here has been unique in the Caribbean. In addition to the wonderful natural elements, guests have felt welcomed, safe, and left in peace to rid themselves of the stresses and pressures of life at home.”

Complaints about unlicensed businesses of many kinds operating on the public beach area are nothing new. In January 2013, the Cayman Compass reported that government, following promises of a crackdown on vendors who did not maintain an updated trade and business license, had abandoned that effort.

A statement from the Department of Tourism at the time noted: “DOT welcomes vendors offering visitors and residents a taste of our heritage and culture in public spaces. However, it should never occur to the extent where our visitors and residents begin to feel harassed.”

There were political concerns at the time – just a few months before the May 2013 general election – that such an enforcement effort would have affected vendors at the George Town craft market and local roadside vendors as well, though the focus of the roundup was public beaches.

Michael Morgan, owner of V-Kool Water Sports, a business that offers visitors and residents rides on flotation devices, was particularly vocal about the proposed crackdown, stating there was “no teeth” in the law to address the public vendors operating in public places.

“There is nothing written in the law prohibiting us from doing business on the beach,” he said at the time. “I had a license, but now they are refusing to renew it. I have been under threat now for over a year but there is nothing in the law that says we should not be here. I haven’t stopped because I don’t agree with what they are trying to do without a written law in place to back up their actions.”

Mr. Morgan holds much the same view today. When interviewed Monday at the V-Kool tent, he said he believes all the Caymanian vendors have a right to be on Public Beach.

“Everybody down here, they’re just trying to make a living. They’re renting chairs and umbrellas just to make ends meet,” he said.

Daphne Bennett, 67, said she has gotten pushback from Seven Mile Beach residents, but believes she and other chair renters aren’t hurting anyone. Ms. Bennett said some of the beach chair renters have tried to get a trade and business license, but they’ve all been denied.

“It seems like they don’t want to [give out the licenses],” she said. “I know [the residents] don’t like it, but no one ever came out and said they don’t want us on the beach.”

New law

In January, a revamped Trade and Business Licensing Law took effect. It set more stringent requirements around the payment of licensing fees and gave Department of Commerce and Investment inspectors the ability to enforce the law using the same powers given to a police constable in the exercise of their duties.

License renewals for businesses are required to be submitted at least 28 days before the expiry of the current license and there are substantial late fees for not filing.

Despite the new law coming into force, residents along Seven Mile Beach said Friday that they were “puzzled.”

“There does not appear to be evidence that it is being applied to unlicensed vendors on the public beach,” the Harbour Heights letter read, adding that one local business owner in the area, Handel Whittaker of Calico Jack’s, noted there were no fewer than 17 unlicensed operators at present. “Meanwhile, the unlicensed vendors on the Public Beach are using public land for their private profit.”

Mr. Hew, a George Town MLA, responded immediately to the Harbour Heights management letter, indicating a meeting of the government agencies responsible for the legal enforcement would be held this week to address the issues. He declined to comment until the matter is discussed further.

Jet Skis

Multiple businesses that rent Jet Skis operate in front of the Public Beach area on Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. According to the Harbour Heights strata management, some have insurance, some do not.

In the view of the management council, a number of the Jet Ski operators are unregulated “out of control” and “highly dangerous.”

“Both the staff of Jet Ski operators and renters continually drive at high speeds in the area in front of Harbour Heights,” the strata management letter read. “It is only a matter of time before some innocent swimmer is hurt – perhaps killed.”

Police Commissioner David Baines on Friday ordered his marine unit commander and West Bay Police Station Commander to conduct an enforcement action on the “Jet Ski issues described.”

“We have already had a Jet Ski fatality last year due to failures in this area by the users,” Mr. Baines said, asking officers to look into the possibility of seizing uninsured Jet Skis if that could legally be done.

Beach chairs

Another unlicensed vendor business that has cropped up since 2013 on Public Beach involves large stacks of beach chairs that are rented to cruise ship tourists and other visitors on a daily basis.

During the morning on a busy cruise ship day, “those chairs are lined up side-by-side from Calico Jack’s [in the north] to Harbour Heights [in the south] forming a nearly impenetrable wall of aluminum and plastic,” according to the management council.

“There is not a single stretch of beachfront where a family can sit down without being caught in a tangle of chairs or accosted by vendors,” the resident council noted.

The management council also questioned whether any of the beach chair rental companies have employees, whether those employees are paid pensions or healthcare benefits in accordance with the law, or if they even maintain trade and business licenses.

In addition to the beach chairs, the management council claims illegally sold soft drink cans and wrappers from foodstuffs are littered about the chairs and not collected when the beach chairs are stacked back up at the end of the day.

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  1. 15 years ago when my wife and I first stepped foot on Cayman we feel in love with the place. The one thing I always remember her bragging about to friends when hyping on Cayman was that no one hassled us to buy anything on the street or offered to braid her hair every 5 minutes when we were walking around downtown.

  2. The idea of the public beaches was to set aside small strips of beach for public use so that the locals would have SOMEwhere to go and enjoy a tranquil day on an unspoiled beach, somewhere not owned by hotels and condos. Who wants to go to a beach fully lined with chairs full of cruise shippers? Not me.

  3. I have tried over the years to report the jet skis that come WELL INSIDE the buoys at high speed, going so far as to contact the police several times. Sadly, nothing seems to have changed. Once I surfaced & a jet ski flew past me! No snorkel is worth being killed so we made up our minds never to snorkel on Seven Mile Beach again. We were there again this January for several weeks and held to our promise. We saw the same behavior from shore! Too many jet skis are operated by careless individuals with no respect for the rules. Go to Cemetery Beach or Eden Rock if you want to snorkel with any sense of safety!

  4. My husband and I fell in love with GC when we first visited in 1999. We have been taking an annual vacation there ever since. We liked it because of the lack of crime and begging and vendors. And not over built. All of that has been slowly going away. A shame.

  5. But at the same time the government wants to encourage more cruise ship tourism……It’s time to decide. More cruise tourists and the crowded beaches that come with that? or more stay-over tourists that want to enjoy peace and quiet like the rest of the residents.

  6. Issue a limited number of inexpensive license(s) and require it publicly posted, including required insurance if needed. Revoke the license if rules are not followed. People who want to make a living will follow the rules and the others can be removed or have their property taken by law enforcement. Trashy venders harm the legitimate venders trying to earn a dollar while respecting Cayman visitors and the beach. Seems self-limiting and nearly self-policing if done correctly. When cruise ship passengers visit multiple islands for only hours at a time, leaving with a negative impression means they’ll never return by air. While I’m not a big fan of the cruise ships, I also know you must have a paying customer, a product they will buy and a proper environment to host that sale. I hope the government balances this equation quickly otherwise it will spread up and down the beach.

  7. Im a visitor, and count myself lucky to have been a visitor for 15 years. It wasnt that long ago, maybe five years, that you would never see a single vendor on Public beach. It was one of our favorite places to go to relax. I agree that now it is totally out of control, chairs lining the entirety of the waters edge and people running to try and sell you something. Even without cruise ships in, the vendors take up most of the space and make the entire experience hectic to say the least. We go once a trip to see if anything changed, sadly so far it has not.

    Ive often noticed the vendors smoking weed and last December we were offered it a few times. I am by no means anti marijuana, but leave that for Jamaica and the States. I dont want that kind of experience in Grand Cayman. I really hope the Government decides to do something. Its way overdue and it is hurting the reputation Grand Cayman has.

  8. It seems like Seven Mile Beach is becoming more like the Wild West everyday. Within the last few months there was a stabbing next to the Public Beach, the robbery at Alfresco and now details of a growing problem at the Public Beach. Where will it stop? Will it stop when all the hotels, restaurants and condos are surrounded by barbed wire because the police is not able to catch the crooks. Or will it stop when stay over tourists stop coming because there is no space for them on the public beach. The time to act is now. Tomorrow may be too late.

  9. It is such a shame to see this beautiful island being ruined. There are far too many cruise ship visitors at the Public Beach, crowding out the locals who are supposed to be able to enjoy their beach. We know Cayman needs (wants?) the income from the cruise ships, though the shops tell us they don’t get much income from cruise ship visitors. We never go downtown when there are ships there, as it is so crowded. I don’t know where these visitors could be taken to have a beach experience, but hope some solution will be found. Mr. Dart has done so much for the island, and this problem will certainly affect guests at the new Kimpton. Maybe he will think of a way to address the situation.

  10. I live in Sunset Cove about 4 down from the Marriott.The jet skis in front of our complex is a big problem. There is a buoy that jet skis are suppose to stay out of. Snorkelers are inside of it. Almost every day there are jet skis inside. I am waiting for someone to get killed. From what I have been told guests are not given proper instructions. Sometimes at the beginning or end of the day a jet ski with one in tow goes inside the buoy. That means employees are doing it. Good example.
    There is also a big problem with dogs running loose on the beach

  11. Every morning my son and I search for bottle caps on the public beach. It started as a game to fill the time, but over the years it became a crusade to clean the beach. On a “good” day, we would pick up 200 bottle caps. It is amazing that such a beautiful, pristine stretch of land has become so littered with debris.

    The beach is a wonderful resource for both residents and visitors alike; and they ought to be able to enjoy it. But instead of a relaxing daytrip to the beach, beachgoers are treated to a cavalcade of vendors and hawkers. Instead of leaving the island with an impression of quiet beauty, they are left with the memory of noise, crowds, and litter.

    How do we return Cayman to its glory?

  12. Appalling! No other way to describe what has happened to Seven Mile Beach Public Beach.

    If there are laws against people profiting illegally on the premises, then enforce them. If not, get them written with such onerous fines, etc. that would discourage future transgressions.

    Since Ivan, we have noticed the steady creep of illegal business activity at the Public Beach. First with the arrival of the V Cool floats. When we were there this January I witnessed two chair vendors fighting over territory. As described in this article the beach is now paved with plastic lounge chairs from Harbour Heights to Calico Jacks and beyond!

    The tourism business in Grand Cayman consists of the “Cruise people” and “Stay Over people” (of which I and my family have been Stay Over people for 22 years). Seven Mile Public beach has been a popular destination for the Cruise people and often it is the first venue they encounter in Grand Cayman. I would think, in the interest of possibly enticing the new arrivals to become the more profitable Stay Over guests that Grand Cayman would want to present the best possible experience for their brief stay.

    Please don’t allow this to continue one day more!

  13. What I see here is major problem , we all want and need the money from the cruise ship and tourist , but we are failing to understand that tourist on the ships need things to do while on the Island , some may want to just go and enjoy the beach and water , but we just can’t just put them on the beach and let them lay on their towels and nothing more to do.

    If we want the ships and tourist we must provide entertainment / beaches for the tourist to have a good adventure to the Islands. We have to remember that the public beach is the only good and large beach that is left for the public to use .

    I know that what is happening on the beach is not properly controlled , but what is been offered is very much needed for the tourist .

    So why don’t someone take control of the vendors and the beach to make sure that all vendors act respectful and responsible to the tourist and the environment / beach . For the person who is in charge see all vendors for your salary because it would be a big job .
    Remember that the citizens of the Islands should have the beach free of hundreds of tourists on at least 2 days a weekend and certain holidays .

  14. Having read the article just confirms many of my true and heartfelt concerns. We have been traveling to Grand Cayman for the past 10 years. What we have loved the most is the beautiful beaches, the tranquil feeling and lifestyle, as well as the upscale dining and shopping experiences. But we mostly love the safe and secure environment which we share with family and friends.

    But sadly, the last few times we were down, we were most troubled by the issues that were detailed in the article. There are several factors at play. It seems that the cruise ships were using several beaches for its travelers along Seven Mile Beach but now that some of the drop off spots have been replaced with condos or hotels, it seems as though most of the tourists from the cruise ships are all being channeled onto the one public beach. They need things to do and places to sit, and I understand the need for some REGULATED services. But there must be other areas on Seven Mile Beach in which the cruise ship visitors can also be brought so they do not feel so cramped as well. They surely cannot enjoy this mayhem either.

    As for visitors who stay on Seven Mile Beach for a week or so at a time, it is affecting their appreciation of Grand Cayman as well. I have heard many guests complain that they are spending money to rent a condo expecting a private beach experience just to find that people visiting the public beach who wish to have shade or do not choose to rent chairs, flow over to neighboring condos where there are shade trees and free of the crowded public beach. This surely detracts from these guests’ experiences.

    Additionally, the issue of unsafe and unlicensed vendors, particularly when it comes to jet skis and other equipment, is of tremendous concern. There is no excuse for this negligence.

    Lastly, the crime mentioned is also very upsetting. It was a safe environment years ago and one that was so appealing when traveling out of the country. Nothing was worse when we visited Jamaica many years ago, and we never went back for that very reason.

    It is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL that steps be taken immediately to rectify these terrible and dangerous situations. I would hate to think that condo owners will sell their units, tourists will stop spending their precious vacations on SMB, and cruise ship tourists will complain about their experience as well. This is not to mention the even more serious consequences of unregulated vendors and increased crime. PLEASE ACT NOW!!!

  15. I have been coming to Cayman since the early 70’s when my parents bought a condo at Harbour Heights. The peaceful beach is no longer there many days because of the cruise ships. The noise, litter, people, and very dangerous jet skis are nuisances to the people who loved the peaceful beach the way it was. Previously the darling Caymanian children were happily swimming in the beautiful sea and swinging at the playground. Now, I don’t think they could be happy at “their” beach with what is going on. So sad!

  16. It is worth studying this – https://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Beaches SMB didn’t even make to top 25!

    In the regional top 10 SMB made #9 – https://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Beaches-cTop-g147237

    The regional destinations vote found Grand Cayman #7 but Havana rated #10 and based on responses to reviews I’ve posted on TripAdvisor in the past most of their following is in the USA so any vote involving Cuba is always going to be on the low side.

    We did claw back some credibility by scoring #2 in the Caribbean islands poll but overall the picture is not good.

    As for the comments above about jetskis. Back in 2007 I did a trip a trip on the Jolly Roger and at the snorkelling stop we were buzzed by four jetskis that at one point came within 20 feet of the boat. They were being rented out by one of the main SMB watersports operators so the problem isn’t just unlicensed and unregulated businesses. It may be the established businesses that are doing all the moaning and complaining but the fact is they’re often the worst offenders.

  17. Although this picture is very colorful and pretty, we need to realize that when we try to do too much with make-up we can end up looking like a clown too.
    That is to say too much of anything is not good.
    Tourist and visitors, residents and others who have made Cayman their home did that for a special reason; and I believe some of those reasons were the privacy they could enjoy, beside having a safe place to keep their money.
    My thoughts are that each one of us whether native or those who have made Cayman their home need to, yes, speak up on things that are not good for the island. After all this is your home now. Some of us have to live in neighboring eastern and western Caribbean countries to experience the difference. They are more populated. Even in Cuba, which has much more beautiful sights to offer, but they have an eleven million population compared to Cayman’s fifty thousand. So you decide what you prefer. But I say continue to protect Cayman that we can enjoy the continued peace and tranquility always.
    If there is over crowding at that beach, I suggest we clear it out, and don’t just talk about it.