A new five-year tourism plan will look at ways to spread visitors beyond three main attractions which risk being swamped with visitors as the industry grows.
Stingray City, the Cayman Turtle Centre and Seven Mile Beach each attract more than a million visitors a year, while other venues marketed as tourism attractions by the industry attract 20,000 a year.
“We are loving some places to death on the western side of the island,” said Seleni Matus of George Washington University, one of the consultants hired to come up with a plan for the industry.
Part of the plan will look at ways to distribute tourists more evenly across the island to ease the pressure on those attractions and spread the economic benefits of tourism.
The consultants spent last week canvassing tourism leaders about the issues facing the industry.
Chris Seek of Solimar International, which has been contracted to produce a five-year plan for tourism, highlighted some familiar concerns emanating from the discussions.
The pressures of development and increasing tourist numbers on key attractions, lack of interest from Caymanians in careers in the industry and public access to the beach were among the concerns raised.
Jim Phillips, principal of Solimar International, said offering new options for tourists that lead to cultural experiences and interactions with locals should be part of the approach.
“Research shows that people are looking for destinations off the beaten path and for local encounters.
“Cayman has a really high amount of repeat visitation, 50 percent among cruise visitors. People want different experiences on their second and third trip, and some will want to dive more deeply into Cayman culture if you create those opportunities.”
He said the public beaches in East End and Bodden Town could potentially be better managed to attract more visitors and create opportunities for locals to interact with tourists.
Rosa Harris, director of tourism, said dispersing tourists more widely around the island may also involve incentivizing tour operators to break old habits of directing people to the same attractions.
The consultants say they are not seeking to estimate a “carrying capacity” for the island, though they say individual attractions may have upper limits.
“What we are hearing is that Stingray City has a carrying capacity, we are seeing it at the airport and a little bit at Seven Mile Beach. There is also the question of how residents feel about this and when it becomes too much.”
They say the plan will look at increasing the value of tourism to the Cayman Islands rather than simply increasing the number of tourists.
Mr. Seek said getting more Caymanians involved in good careers in the industry is a key ambition for government officials and hoteliers and business owners whom the consultants had interviewed.
“You can’t just look at numbers as a measure of success. We have to look at the economic impact, we also want to look at what the other goals are and what indicators will tell us how we are doing with this plan.”
Another concern is how tourism officials influence areas outside of their remit, such as planning zoning.
“The most successful approaches we have seen in other countries where tourism is important to the economy have involved a whole government approach,” said Mr. Seek.