EDITORIAL – The unequal distribution of Cayman’s tourists

Social distancing may impact the viability of some businesses even once tourism resumes.

“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.

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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.


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  1. I think you have hit the nail on the head.

    When people go to Paris for the first time they head for the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe.
    In Rome it’s off to the Colliseum, Vatican and Spanish Steps
    and so on.

    Now on REPEAT visits they will probably avoid the Eiffel Tower and its hour + queues. But the FIRST time. That is where they will head.

    Until such time as we can offer real draws that compete with our most famous attractions that is how it will be here.

    Regarding those public beach vendors we simply MUST move them back from the waterfront.

    Furthermore, why should they be the only business enterprises in Grand Cayman that can occupy their “premises” rent free?
    Tiki Beach and Royal Palms also offer beach loungers for daily rent, but they have to PAY for their premises.

    Why not the Public Beach vendors? I’m sure their businesses are highly profitable and could well afford to pay for their business use of Government land.

  2. Solving most of these problems is so simple: $500 fine first time , $1000 fine second time, lost of license for small businesses third time. Done. 400 police we got, hardly ever see more then one car per 4 hours?
    Going to the Botanical park during the summer is very, very hot. Most tourists who like to go there are old people who cannot take the long walk in the heat. I suggested a golf car trolley like the one that crawls through south church street and runs back and forth so that tourists or anyone can look at what they like and not have a heart attack. How about a fruit drink bar on top of water fall area with large fans for a break. So many ideas,I’m sure as you think about old people who mostly like history and landscapes with flowers and orchids you will understand better.

    • Very good idea David regarding the Botanical Park. Maybe some sort of a towed car system like they use in Disneyland car parks would have more carrying capacity.

      Plenty of cruise boat people are elderly and aren’t up to swimming with stingrays.


  3. The beach is going to be gone when Dart takes it back for new hotels. All previous Gov’t never thought it was important so we only have Twin Pines ,Public beach which has no facilities for humans. Tourists don’t want to lay on the beach on a towel and no one in transportation will want that individual in their vehicle dripping with salt water and sand. Royal Palms beach is gone also to Dart?? Where do you want the tourists to go to the beach ? They must have facilities . So where? How about Bodden town or Frank Sound? As Darts’ getting rid of the rock on the beach can’t we do the same East? All we need to do is make a pool inside the beach naturally or construct it. Pageant beach cut through iron shore many years ago and allowed people to have a pool inside the ironshore. If you haven’t seen it ,go take a look. We make things so flipping hard when it’s not.

  4. Someone had tried to justify beach vendors by saying that they can’t find employment anywhere else because many of them have police records. The beachgoers would probably want to know that they are not surrounded by violent offenders or child molesters.
    Norman Linton is correct, why would they be allowed to make money off public land and pay no rent so to speak.
    What is the carrying capacity of the Grand Cayman as a tourism destination? DOT must know this figure by heart.

  5. I think one of the uncomfortable realities of life is that both DoT and their elected masters don’t have, and probably never had, a clue about how the global tourism market operates.

    DoT think that by spouting what they assume is clever jargon-filled rhetoric they can impress people but at the end of the day that doesn’t deliver the goods. Look at the way the Cayman Islands has lost out on the UK/European all-inclusive market while most of the neighbouring destinations have cashed in on it then consider how the Canadian market has dropped off in recent years. But the most telling sign that things are going wrong is the lack of both big name resorts and major tour operators chasing the Cayman Islands as a destination – there is a reason for that and part of is probably to do with DoT. One of their big blind spots is that they seem to insist on regarding all-inclusive holidays as a low-end market that shouldn’t be encouraged here – I suggest they try a week at any Sandals resort because it will be a big eye-opener.

    When it comes to the elected representatives the problem is far more simple. They can’t envisage what brings tourists in, creates jobs and makes money. Paying five-star rates for accommodation may be OK when someone else is picking up the tab but tourists don’t appreciate being charged up-market room rates for what is often not much more than a motel room – over-priced does not equal high-end and these islands have a very long way to go in that area. Right now most of the SMB hotels don’t even meet to standards of the hotels in Varadero, Cuba that cater for UK tourists on $800-a-week all-inclusive (and that includes flights!) packages and trust me, despite what the surveys may say, the Varadero beach makes SMB look tired, over-developed and scruffy.

    This report is just more money down the drain because all the conclusions and recommendations will inevitably fall foul of NIH – Not Invented Here – and be ignored. The real solution is to abolish DoT and replace them with a private agency that is performance-funded so rather than relying on government handouts they have to deliver on all their plans and promises.