The Department of Tourism’s call for consultants to update the Cayman Islands’ National Tourism Management Plan presents the opportunity to ponder an issue that has been hovering over our country for decades.

The question is fundamental, even existential: Are we a “quantity” destination or a “quality” destination?

Despite (or perhaps because of) Cayman’s attracting millions of visitors by cruise ship (“quantity”) and by air (“quality”) over the years, the matter has never been settled definitively.

The “current” tourism management plan (which actually covered the years 2009-2013) appeared to land on the side of “quality,” warning of the potentially deleterious effects of increased cruise traffic, and reaching the conclusion of “providing a distinctive high quality product …”

Well, that was the plan. Since the document’s expiration date in 2013, the Progressives government has pursued a $150 million-plus project to construct a cruise berthing facility in downtown George Town. Considering the cruise dock in conjunction with the ongoing airport terminal expansion project, it appears to us that the government has already made up its mind on the future of Cayman’s tourism product — and it isn’t quality over quantity.

If anything, our officials are continuing to try to have it both ways.

So we have to ask, what’s the point of renewing the tourism management plan? Plans usually come before decisions are made, not after. And if they’re going to be ignored anyway — why bother with the exercise?

In regard to the efficacy of a tourism management plan, specifically, even the best such report can be considered only advisory (or merely aspirational) due to the nature of the industry, which cuts across multifarious functions of government — land use, development, commerce, public finance, environmental health, immigration, customs, law enforcement … — that operate more or less independently from one another.

Some may pick up that point to argue that Cayman needs one centralized national plan to outline the government strategy for the entire country, including tourism. Our conclusion is different: The government should not be in the business of messing with business.

If our officials want to promote high-end stayover tourism, they probably don’t need the Department of Tourism. They need to encourage developers who are going to build hotels like the Kimpton Seafire or Ritz-Carlton (then scuttle out of their way). If the private hotel operators require a larger airport, that’s a capital project that falls squarely within the remit of the public sector.

Conversely, if our officials want to promote cruise tourism, they need to build the cruise dock. That’s a project, by the way, we continue to support — with the following four caveats we delineated last October, that the project: be done quickly; be of the highest quality; fall within a feasible financing scheme; and go hand-in-glove with plans for downtown’s revitalization, tourist attractions and necessary infrastructure. (For the record, thus far we have no solid evidence that any of those conditions are being fulfilled.)

Apart from public capital projects, government’s role in the tourism sector is properly limited to supporting functions that may be mundane but are vital, such as keeping public spaces clean and ensuring our beaches are free from swarming hordes of unlicensed vendors.

Most importantly, what makes Cayman stand out as a fabulous tourist destination (no, it’s not “Caymankindness” or cultural activities) is our reputation for being a safe place to visit. If our officials allow criminals to threaten the security of our tourists and their belongings, no tourism management plan, no matter how well crafted, stands a chance of success.

In case government’s request for proposal includes a new global marketing strategy for Cayman, we’ll offer up our comprehensive tourism plan.

It consists of one large picture and one line of text:

The picture is the best photo ever taken of Seven Mile Beach.

The headline is, “Number One Beach in the World, says U.S. News & World Report.”


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  1. Do we want a quality or quantity destination . We have to remember that we can’t have our cake and eat it too . I think that the Islands should take the quality option , cause it makes sense to have first class beaches and first class accommodations which we already have.
    The quantity option should not even be in our mind , cause Cayman Islands in for structure and size cannot accommodate large quantities of people who are stay over people and cruise ship passengers at the same time. I forgot about the now 60,000 residents living on the Island.

    I have worked in tourism in Cayman for over 20 years, working and dealing with the tourist directly, it was not one time I heard the stay overnight visitors and the cruise ship passengers say how over crowed the island are , and this was before so many ships were stopping and no real big hotels were built .
    I think that the government would be making a big mistake if they think that quantity can work in Cayman Islands today .

  2. I wouldn’t take too much comfort from the U.S. News & World Report headline because those results are definitely not reflected in reviews conducted by the major travel-dedicated organisations like TripAdvisor. In fact anyone who has done any travelling would have to question how U.S. News ever came to this conclusion. What spoils SMB is the fact that so much development has been permitted right on the beach, unlike many other resorts there’s no proper setback and it ruins the beach. I can easily think of at least half-a-dozen spectacular beaches (Varadero in Cuba is one) that put SMB in the shade and not one of them carries the kind of inflated price tag you have to pay to visit the Cayman Islands.

    A more useful headline to consider might be from Reuters 10 days ago. It read ‘Cuba scrambles to keep pace with U.S.-fuelled tourism boom’. The story goes on to report that ‘European tourism in Cuba was up 60 percent through April of this year’, that’s a sharp contrast to DoT’s abysmal failure to make any inroads into this lucrative market in the last 20 years. Other reports show Cuba cashing in on another key market for the Cayman Islands – Canada. Here they are not only attracting tourists but also some serious investors who can clearly see which way the tourism wind is blowing.

    The harsh reality is that DoT should have done a lot more a decade ago during the recovery from Ivan. They had the opportunity to attract investment from Europe and the UK but turned it away. They rejected the concept of the kind of all-inclusive resorts that are everywhere else in the Caribbean and (particularly with the Egyptian Red Sea resorts currently off-limits) are welcoming millions of stay-over visitors every year. Instead they went for the ‘high-end’ concept without any real grasp of what that meant or what it involved. I’m not quite sure what DoT’s vision of this is or what it’s based on (hotels they’ve stayed in on official jollies maybe?) but it does seem to confuse high-end with over-priced. One thing they need to realise is the fact that it takes a lot more than adding $150 to the room rates and serving expensive drinks at the bar to turn a two-star hotel into a four-star –that’s just a quick recipe for bankruptcy.

    Right now whatever the politicians are saying the important market, stay-over tourism, is stagnant and rapidly losing ground to other destinations in the region. It doesn’t matter how many new hotels are currently being built or in the planning stages because once this is offset against all the recent hotel bankruptcies, sell offs and closures there’s very little real progress. In fact you do have to wonder how long many of the properties that are currently struggling to stay solvent will be able to survive after this mini-boom in hotel development is completed.

    The real answer to this would be to stop civil servants interfering in a tourism industry they clearly do not understand because that’s what’s done most of the damage over the years. Ideally, the answer would be to simply get rid of DoT in its present form and replace it with a private tourism promotion organisation that is both independent and self-funding – there’s no better incentive for doing a good job than having your next pay cheque depend on results.

    @ Ron Clair Ebanks

    In stay-over tourism it is actually possible to combine quality with quantity as places like Sandals demonstrate. In fact the all-inclusive market has proved conclusively that the two can be successfully combined but it appears nobody here wants a piece of that.

  3. @ David Williams, I think that my / yours definitions of quantity /quality are different . Ask your self these questions, are these Sandals location / destination the size of Cayman , and is developed like Cayman , and Sandals all inclusive resorts , would any other person be able to benifit from tourism in Sandals resorts . Why should we be like Sandals , and not be our own kind of travel destinations .

  4. @ Ron Clair Ebanks

    You seem to have the impression that Sandals’ resorts are huge. Ocho Rios is just 74 rooms, Montego Bay is 251 so size-wise they’d fit in perfectly here and it’s a worldwide-recognised big brand name, which is what the Cayman Islands lacks at the moment. Kimpton may be well-known in the USA but, unlike it’s parent company – Intercontinental, it’s virtually unknown in the UK and Europe. In fact I don’t think you’ll ever see Sandals or anything like it in the Cayman Islands because the opportunity has passed and everyone is now looking towards our big neighbour in the north. I’m also waiting to see how long it is before CIG and Kimpton bang heads on the LGBT issue because their company policies are definitely at odds with current attitudes within the LA.

    As for your question about who would benefit from resorts like Sandals on Grand Cayman – that’s part of the problem right now and it always has been. Too many vested interests who are more worried about ‘what’s in it for me?’ than the overall benefits to the economy. I understand that a lot of local businessmen regard all-inclusive as a threat but that’s the way tourism has been going for the last 20 years so it’s time to get with the programme not fight it. What they ignore is that all-inclusive resorts are labour intensive – they employ a lot more people than standard hotels and that has to be a good thing for everybody.

    Bottom line – there is no specific ‘Cayman’ tourism product, it’s part of a global market in which these islands are being left in the dust by our neighbours because of local attitudes.

  5. One of the major draws when I first moved here over 34 years ago was the uncrowded beaches.
    Especially off season one could be the only person on a 300 ft beach.

    This compared so well to the sunbed to sunbed beaches one finds in Europe.

    Fast forward to today and those uncrowded beaches are rare. Still to be found by visitors to Plantana for instance. But hotel beaches like the Ritz Carlton and Westin are almost as crowded as European beaches.

    More crowds? Only at the expense of driving away those people seeking freedom from those crowds.

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