We don’t want to make too much of the ever-so-slight decline in air arrivals to the Cayman Islands so far this year, but unfortunately our tourism officials have beat us to the punch.
Here are the numbers: Compared to the first half of 2015, air arrival figures have “plummeted” this year by a grand total of 1.41 percent. That’s hardly cause for alarm, especially considering that six-month dip follows six years of sustained growth.
On the other side of Cayman’s tourism coin, cruise arrivals have increased by 7 percent compared to the first six months of 2015, and are well on their way to a third consecutive year of growth. (Remember that 2015 cruise numbers were Cayman’s highest in a decade.)
Combined visitor numbers – by air and by sea – are up by more than 5 percent compared to this point last year.
Taken in the context of overall visitor spending, which remains healthy, then our impartial assessment of this year’s data goes something like this: “The state of Cayman’s tourism industry is strong.”
Contrast that with the response from tourism director Rosa Harris: “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.”
Wait … what? Zika? This from the tourism director?
While there have been a handful of “imported” cases of Zika in Cayman, to date there has not been one single confirmed case of “locally transmitted” Zika in Cayman. In other words, no one has caught Zika from Cayman mosquitoes.
For a public official to link the concepts of “Zika” and “Cayman” in the news media amounts to marketing malpractice. Ms. Harris’s remarks are highly irresponsible and potentially damaging to the very sector she is charged with promoting and protecting.
Cayman, in fact, has so far been a “safe harbor” from Zika in the midst of the Caribbean and Latin America, where the mosquito-borne illness is running rampant. We don’t know how long Cayman will remain free of Zika, but our expectation is that – just like with dengue and chikungunya – our islands will not suffer to the degree of the rest of the region.
(Fingers crossed, insect repellent on, GM mosquitoes at the ready, pending a judge’s discretion.)
For that, we credit the continued vigilance of our Mosquito Research and Control Unit and the relatively high standard of environmental and public health in Cayman.
Rather than fretting about Zika’s adverse effects on Cayman tourism, Ms. Harris and Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell should be trumpeting Cayman as a non-Zika alternative to the rest of the Caribbean – where, by the way, stayover tourism is still booming, despite the actual presence of Zika!
So much for that excuse.
When it’s all said and done, that’s what references to Zika, Canadian economic woes and European terrorism are – excuses tossed out by our officials to explain away the lack of exponential tourism growth. Notice that when tourism numbers are flat or declining, our officials tend to blame international or external factors (such as hotel room capacity), but when tourism numbers are soaring, they point to the effectiveness of Cayman Airways or “CaymanKind” sloganeering.
Our officials’ actual, limited responsibility toward tourism is to foster a favorable climate for residents and tourists alike. (If you wish to see an example of where our government has failed in that regard, look no further than this letter to the editor.)
The truth is, as in all industries, “market forces” in tourism are far beyond the control of tourism operators. All they can do is provide the best product possible, to the most possible people, at the most competitive prices.
As long as Cayman remains safe, sane and orderly, we have faith in our tourism product, and our outlook for the sector is decidedly sunny.