Air arrival figures to the Cayman Islands suffered a slight dip in the first six months of 2016.
Fears over the Zika virus, the slowdown in the Canadian economy, terrorist atrocities in Europe and the fact that Grand Cayman has effectively “maxed out” its room capacity, were all cited as potential reasons behind the 1.41 percent drop in stay-over visitors.
Nonetheless, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell remains optimistic about the performance of the tourism sector and predicted that the opening of the Kimpton Seafire Resort in November would bring about a change in fortunes.
Even with slightly fewer air arrivals, he said, Department of Tourism research and average daily room rate data from leading hotels suggest that fewer visitors were spending collectively more money than last year. A total of 210,490 visitors arrived in Cayman by air in the first six months of 2016, compared with 213,493 visitors in January-June 2015.
Mr. Kirkconnell said air arrival figures rebounded in June this year after a drop in the spring.
“What happened in April and May? Zika was blaring through every tourism destination and every travel agency in the U.S.
“It takes just a little bit to change 1 percent in a six-month period, but from a stay-over standpoint, 1 percent less people, with a 3.5 higher spend, translates to what we want. Less burden on the infrastructure, more money for the economy.”
Cruise arrivals were up over the first six months of the year from 908,881 to 973,305, the tourism officials noted.
“We are concerned for the future and the impact of Zika and how that might affect certain groups that travel to the Cayman Islands. We know that we are very attractive to the couples market, and for those that are in the phase of their lives that are having families, this directly impacts that group.”
Jim Andrews, who studies housing and tourism trends in Cayman and across the Caribbean for Integra Realty Resources, has a different take on the drop. In an interview earlier this week, he said, “I’d be surprised if people are considering Zika as a major impediment to visiting Cayman.”
He said the main culprits for the drop in air arrivals are economic woes in the U.S., U.K. and Europe, and competition from other high-end markets likes Aruba.
Despite perceptions about Zika, travel from Cayman’s core U.S. market was actually up in the first half of 2016, with the overall drop attributed to a decline in visitation from Canada. Europe and elsewhere.
Stran Bodden, chief officer in the Ministry of Tourism, said there was inevitably some leveling off in air arrivals after two years of strong growth. “When you have growth of 7 percent [in 2013], then 11 percent [in 2014], then you are going to see that rooms are not available. We are still at negative 1.41 – that is a pretty small decrease,” he said.
Based on exit surveys and other data, tourism officials have calculated an estimated spend of $574.1 million for tourists visiting these shores in the 12 months up to the end of June this year. The average length of stay was 6.03 days.
“We don’t just count bodies, the economic impact comes in various ways,” said Ms. Harris.
Compass journalist Charles Duncan contributed to this story.