New figures released by the Tourism Department show tourist arrivals by air and on cruise ships ticked up for the third quarter and for the year so far.
Businesses are ramping up operations and adding staff ahead of the official start of the tourist season with Pirates Week next week.
For the first nine months of this year, air arrivals inched up a fraction of a percent to about 296,000 compared to the same period in 2015. Cruise arrivals went up by 70,000, to 1.3 million for the same period, according to data from the Tourism Department.
Cayman Islands Tourism Association board member and manager of Rackam’s restaurant Julie Allan said Monday, “We’re expecting another great season.” She said the waterfront restaurant is adding three or four employees to help with the influx of customers in the high season.
The restaurant was gearing up for lunch Monday with two cruise ships in the harbor, but the high swells appeared to be keeping many passengers on the ships.
Air arrivals saw slow growth last year, with a 0.67 percent increase over 2014. Tourism Department data shows growth in people arriving by air is still almost flat.
Cruise arrivals did better, with a total of more than 1.7 million last year. That is the highest number since 2007.
Pirates Week begins on Nov. 10 and marks the official beginning to the tourist season as people from more northern latitudes travel to the Caribbean to escape cold and snow.
In the month ahead, the number of cruise ships stopping in Grand Cayman will begin to increase. There are five days in November with four ships in the port at the same time, with potentially 10,000 to 13,000 passengers for each of those days, according to the Port Authority cruise ship calendar.
Many tourism businesses rely on the high season to make it through the rest of the year.
Martin Rybka works on the glass-bottom boat the Nautilus. He says the small company does not add staff for the tourist season, but they do about double the number of tours around George Town harbor.
“We are counting down the days,” he said.
For the past few months, the Nautilus has been taking an average of 12 trips out a week. Once the season is in full swing, he said, they will take out about 25 trips a week.
He said the company has been fixing up their boat and getting everything ready. “Right now we are making sure the boat is working, making sure the equipment is all working. We don’t want to get out there and have something break down,” he said.
Nick More, with Cayman Diving based on the George Town waterfront, said his company plans to add four seasonal employees for the high season. He said they run the same number of trips each day no matter what the season, but more tourists mean more divers on each trip.
“We get more open water courses and more divers out on the boats,” he said, and they will need more instructors and divemasters to keep up with the busy winter season.