The Cayman Islands are shining like a newly polished ornament. Holiday lights are shimmering, our white beach sand glitters in the sunshine like freshly fallen snow (almost), and everywhere, it seems, is decked out in the trappings of the season.
All that’s missing from Christmas in Cayman is one very special guest – and perhaps it will be this VIP (Hint: His annual arrival is imminent, and his catchphrase is, “Ho, ho, ho!”) who pushes Cayman’s tourist arrival numbers into record territory.
Through the first 11 months of 2016, Cayman’s stay-over tourists numbered 345,155 — which is 329 fewer than during the first 11 months of 2015 (a minuscule difference of less than 0.1 percent). Heading into the homestretch, however, Grand Cayman has one additional important asset that the island didn’t have last year: the newly opened Kimpton Seafire resort.
Officials (and ourselves, and we imagine the hotel’s developer, the Dart Group) are crossing our fingers that visitors to the Kimpton provide a late surge that will allow this year’s stay-over numbers to eclipse last year’s.
Of course, in Cayman’s annual competition with itself, there’s no “prize” for besting last year’s totals – other than a positive news headline or two, and the sense of satisfaction that our tourism industry is, statistically, growing. But those sorts of moral encouragements do carry some importance.
Regardless of whether Cayman’s stay-over totals end up being 1 percent more than last year’s, or 1 percent less, or exactly the same, it’s all good news for Cayman. Being on the cusp of, or better yet blowing by, record-breaking figures is precisely where our tourism industry wants to be.
Additionally, if we factor cruise statistics into the equation (which we shall), then total tourism figures for 2016 have clearly increased compared to 2015. That’s something worth toasting to during Christmas dinner.
The sector’s performance is even more admirable given the regional and global challenges that cropped up in 2016. Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell identified several in the front-page story that appeared in Wednesday’s Compass, including the Zika panic, the Brexit referendum and slide of the pound, and major terrorist attacks in Europe that affected travel plans from that side of the Atlantic. We’ll also toss in weakness in the Canadian dollar and the euro, for good measure.
As Minister Kirkconnell points out, perhaps the most significant constraint on Cayman’s tourist arrivals is Cayman’s room stock. (The logic is apparent, particularly during this Nativity season: Our country can only host as many visitors as we have “room at the inn” for.)
That all-important factor is far more of a blessing than a curse. What it means is that consumer demand for Cayman vacations still outstrips our supply. As far as our long-term prospects for growth are concerned, Cayman remains master of our own destiny.
Next year, with the Kimpton now online and Margaritaville set to open soon, the link between room stock and visitor numbers will be tested. If all goes to plan, and barring international macroeconomic factors beyond Cayman’s control, this time 12 months from now we should be celebrating 2017 as yet another banner year for tourism in Cayman.