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.”