“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
– Yogi Berra
We (obviously) haven’t read the new five-year tourism plan being developed by Cayman Islands government consultants, but, as we reported in Monday’s newspaper, part of the report will examine ways to lure tourists away from the country’s three most popular attractions – Seven Mile Beach, Stingray City and the Cayman Turtle Centre – each of which draws more than 1 million visitors annually, and spread them out to other venues, such as Hell, Pedro St. James and the Queen Elizabeth II Royal Botanic Park, each of which attracts some 20,000 visitors per year.
Good luck with that.
Imagine you are a cruise tourist visiting Grand Cayman for the first time.
Once your feet touch the earth, you have approximately three or four hours on the island before you have to queue back up for a return tender.
These are the three questions going through your mind, roughly in order:
“Where is the beach?”
“Where are the stingrays?”
“Where is the shopping, the food and the drinks?”
We need not dwell too deeply on the reasons for consumers’ choices. The free market has voted. The numbers tell us what tourists are interested in.
On a different note, we are sure that the consultants from George Washington University and Solimar International are perfectly capable; however, why does our government feel it is necessary to retain the services of off-island experts on, of all things, the topic of Cayman tourism?
Putting aside that Cayman’s tourism ministry and department employ dozens of people, if by now Cayman does not possess enough local expertise about our own tourism industry, then who does?
We will volunteer a handful of our own observations. People come to Cayman for three main reasons:
Seven Mile Beach (ranked the number one beach in the world by U.S. News & World Report, and just recently voted best beach in the Caribbean by readers of the Caribbean Journal);
Safety and security (which, unfortunately, is at risk of being compromised incrementally by displays of lawlessness, such as the country’s rogue dirt bikers);
The overall tourist experience, highlighted by friendliness, cleanliness, quality and good customer service (which is also being threatened by, for example, the handful of unscrupulous taxi drivers who take advantage of visitors).
Taken separately, the unlicensed public beach vendors threaten to erode all three aspects of Cayman’s edge in the tourism industry. They crowd Seven Mile Beach with beach chairs, vehicles and stands. Though we sympathize with their inability to get a definitive response from government, the vendors are openly operating without official sanction. Some vendors have become pushy toward visitors and combative among themselves, as they attempt to stake out turf on what is actually Crown property.
Rather than commissioning ever more reports from outside consultants, the government should focus on addressing the country’s internal issues. If officials neglect those responsibilities, Cayman will have a far more serious problem than “too many” tourists; we might end up with too few.