Fear over the spread of the Zika virus in the Caribbean has been blamed for a decline in stay-over tourism in Grand Cayman this year.
After two years of record arrival figures, visitor numbers dropped in each of the first four months of 2016.
Overall stay-over tourism declined from 151,657 in the first four months of 2015 to 147,342 in the first four months of 2016, a drop of 2.8 percent.
Though there have been no reported cases of Zika in the Cayman Islands, Director of Tourism Rosa Harris said the public perception is that the disease is a threat across the entire region.
She said group bookings, including wedding parties, were particularly affected in the first few months of the year.
“A number of hoteliers have lost group business because companies do not want to put employees at risk,” she said. “Even though we don’t have Zika, it is the perception and the threat overall to travel.
“Our wedding and romance business is significant,” she said. “It has hurt our business tremendously. Brides are deciding to stay at home rather than consider a Caribbean wedding because of the perception that the entire Caribbean has Zika.”
She said the Cayman Islands is too small to be noticeable as Zika-free on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s map, which highlights affected areas.
“It shows as if the entire Caribbean and Latin American region is impacted,” she said.
She said the perception that Zika is a threat is a major issue across the region, and that Cayman’s Department of Tourism is working with travel agents and marketing partners to convince tourists that it is not a threat here.
Answering questions from legislators about the drop in tourism arrivals, during a Finance Committee hearing on Friday, Ms. Harris said the decline in the Canadian economy is also a factor.
While tourism numbers from Cayman’s main source market, the U.S., are up slightly, visitors from Canada and Europe are down.
“A number of economies are impacted and concerns over travel safety have fueled some of the shifts in our arrivals,” she said.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said spending is increasing in spite of the dip in arrival figures due to the increase in room rates.