Cayman’s key attraction, Seven Mile Beach, risks losing its appeal as visitor numbers continue to rise, according to a Department of Tourism analysis of future industry trends.
The department highlights growing tourism traffic, including an anticipated increase in cruise passengers, as a potential threat, in a request for proposals for consultants to produce a five-year plan assessing the capacity and potential for tourism growth.
The document notes that George Town and Seven Mile Beach have changed dramatically over the past three decades and “there are indications that the scale and nature of development is beginning to deter tourists.”
While the strategy over the past few years has been to target growth, culminating in record arrivals in the past two years, Director of Tourism Rosa Harris says the new approach will be more focused on managing growth in a sustainable way.
With the pressures on attractions like Seven Mile Beach and Stingray City, she believes the country needs to increase its attractions and ensure that quality is not lost in pursuit of numbers.
“Over the past few years we have been going through a rebuilding period and trying to bring the numbers back – 300,000 was the target,” she said. “We have met and surpassed that. Future growth depends on additional room stock and is going to take longer, but we have to start asking questions about what type and level of growth we want.
“It is not just about numbers anymore. It is also our ability to handle that volume.”
The consultants will be tasked with coming up with a Sustainable Tourism Strategic Plan that can guide the country from 2017-2021.
It will consider what types of developments to go after, what new source markets to pursue and how to increase visitor options beyond the traditional attractions.
“The capacity of Seven Mile Beach is what it is. There is a point where it is not a great experience,” said Ms. Harris. “Not everyone can go to Seven Mile Beach. We have to have another wonderful beach with good facilities where you can get a meal and a drink.”
“It is for us to look at where those opportunities are,” she added.
Several public and private sector developments already in the pipeline, from the airport expansion to Dart’s new hotels on Seven Mile Beach, will be factored into the equation. The potential impact of a further rise in cruise numbers from a proposed new cruise ship berthing dock will also be part of the equation.
Ms. Harris said the department needs to work with investors and the planning department to ensure Cayman’s infrastructure can handle new developments and to have them sync with the “sophisticated, barefoot luxury” brand.
“Developers will have their ideas for what they want to do, but we need our own vision for the type of development we want to encourage.
“While we are open for business, we have to go about our development in a planned way, not to deter opportunity but make sure what we are doing is best for the country. We don’t want something, for example, that threatens [our] way of life, or is more than the infrastructure can handle.
“We only have so much land mass – we have to manage it properly, from a development perspective,” she said.
Beyond Dart’s new developments and a proposed new five-star property in Beach Bay, Bodden Town, she sees little scope for further major resort development in other areas.
Boutique hotels, of 100 rooms or fewer, and condos offer the best potential for room growth in the eastern districts, she believes.
The plan will also look at how the tourism industry can better create entrepreneurial and job opportunities for Caymanians.
“It has to make sure the benefits of tourism growth are delivered across the Cayman Islands,” said Ms. Harris.
The deadline for proposals for the project, with a budget of $50,000 to $80,000, was last week.
The consultants will be selected with a view to a completed report being compiled before the end of the year, following an industry-wide consultation exercise.
The official title of the request for proposals is “Provision of consulting services for an assessment of the capacity and potential of the Cayman Islands tourism industry and the development of a Sustainable Tourism Development Strategic Plan (2017 – 2021).”
Outlining the remit, the request for proposals states, “As the Cayman Islands approaches the maturity stage of its tourism product life cycle, the anticipated growth of tourist arrivals, along with the expanding accommodation capacity and demand for various visitor experiences has highlighted the need to monitor and manage potential physical, environmental and social impacts of this growth in the medium to long term. It will therefore become increasingly important to establish limits of acceptable change and visitor management systems.”