Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell hailed the impact of increasing arrival figures in bringing down unemployment as the Cayman Islands gears up for what is expected to be the busiest high season on record.
With the opening of the new Kimpton Seafire Resort scheduled for later this month, Mr. Kirkconnell expects to see a surge in arrivals.
“This will be the busiest season we have ever had and one of the most difficult because of the construction at the airport,” he said.
“We have to manage that situation to make it as comfortable as possible for visitors.”
Stay-over tourism figures held steady in the first nine months of 2016, showing a mere 0.33 percent increase over last year, which was the best year since records began.
Lack of available rooms and traveler concerns around the Zika virus in the Caribbean were blamed for the slow-down in growth.
But Mr. Kirkconnell expects things to improve in the final quarter, with another record year in prospect by the close of 2016.
“We will get six weeks of Kimpton for the season, which we expect to be very positive for us,” he said.
Cruise arrivals are also up by just over 5 percent on the same period last year.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the end of year figures were on track to show a 40,000 jump in air arrivals compared with 2013 and a jump of 425,000 cruise visitors over the same period. Based on the average spending of the two types of visitors, he said, the increase in both sectors had each pumped an additional $49 million a year into the economy.
“These are figures you can’t argue with. If they were good or bad, we would have to defend them either way,” he said.
He said the focus had to be on both cruise and air arrivals in order to impact both sectors of the economy.
He credited the cruise industry with providing steady jobs and income for new taxi drivers and tour operators, and stay-over tourists for keeping restaurants and hotels busy. He said the growth in both sectors had played a big part in bringing Caymanian unemployment down from a high of 10.5 percent in 2012 to a low of 5.7 percent in spring of this year.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the hospitality school had helped around 50 students pursue careers or higher education in the industry, while the growth in the industry had also created new career opportunities at Cayman Airways and the Airports Authority.
He acknowledged that “a lot of work permits” had been issued to the Kimpton Seafire Resort, which will employ more than 400 people.
At a new resort, and in the industry in general, he said there would always be a need for overseas staff to fill positions were locals did not want to work or the expertise was lacking.
“When you open 300 rooms, you have to be realistic that you don’t have every person they need to open those rooms here on island. We need to balance bringing in the labor they need to be successful and make sure Caymanians are given the opportunity to succeed.
“There are not enough Caymanians available for the jobs that exist in tourism. We are making sure that the Caymanians that want to be involved have the opportunity for upward mobility – that is our responsibility.”