EDITORIAL – A banner year for tourism in Cayman

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.

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Now we know about quantity, how about quality? What residents and visitors say about it? Quality of life on this island and value received for the money paid to vacation here.
    What is the tourism carrying capacity of the Grand Cayman?

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  2. @ L. Bell

    I have to agree with you because this self-congratulatory comment, which at times reads more like a GIS/DoT press release than an editorial, is so superficial.

    What about taking the performance figures here in the context of other destinations in the region? If you factor those in there’s nothing to celebrate because we are falling way behind the competition. In particular our impact into the UK/European market is laughable compared with our neighbours and we are even losing ground in the once profitable Canadian market.

    Next a few harsh realities. Are people actually going to pay $700-$800 a night (that’s based on Jan/Feb 2017) to stay at the Kimpton? Will the current owners really be able remediate conditions in TI to the point where it will again function as a resort? What about the SMB hotels that are already struggling financially? How will upping room numbers affect them?

    Then there’s the real ‘elephant in the room’ – Cuba. Last week I received a White House newsletter that included a letter from a Cuban running a private guest house. This is part of it –

    The demand for our services dramatically increased with the growing number of visitors, so we had the opportunity to expand. We now run a real bed and breakfast with 10 bedrooms, and have 17 people working with us as we provide services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Now, we’re starting a small taxi company, as transportation requests have increased — especially in old, classic cars. Thanks to these new times, we can even come to the U.S. to buy pieces to restore our eight American cars.

    More than 500,000 Americans visited Cuba last year. Ten U.S. airlines are flying between American and Cuban cities. And American cruise lines will soon start pulling into our ports. That’s going to mean a lot for Cuba’s development.

    In the past two years they’d apparently built this up from running one old car and letting out two rooms. To paraphrase the final sentence – that’s also going to mean a lot for the Cayman Islands’ future development – only in this case it’s likely to be a negative influence.

    I await with interest the Compass tourist-related editorials for 2017.

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