Tourism minister Moses Kirkconnell hopes an effort to explore air services to South American gateway cities will boost summertime visitors.
The idea, he says, is to take advantage of Southern Hemisphere seasons that are the reverse of those in Cayman’s chief tourism market, the U.S. and Canada, providing new air routes and filling a growing roster of hotel rooms during Cayman’s traditional off-season.
“Our core market is North America, 90-plus percent of our stay-over visitors are from there,” he said, adding that the appeal of Cayman is that “when it’s cold in the north, Cayman is warm – and when it’s cold in the south, well, Cayman is still warm.”
If tourism officials examine the strategies making North American tourism successful, they may generalize to South America, he said.
The Department of Tourism has issued an invitation to tender seeking “consulting services … in the development of a Latin America business strategy to promote tourism to the Cayman Islands.”
The department and the Ministry of Tourism – boosted by local business leaders – have had only modest success in previous, similar attempts.
Approaches to Panama and Honduras have had limited responses, and larger plans involving Buenos Aires have proved sluggish.
On Tuesday, Mr. Kirkconnell renewed hopes that prosperous Latin gateways might finally happen.
“You can’t do this independently of the stakeholders without all the players involved in the tourism product,” he said, naming chiefly hotels and airlines.
“You have to look at this in a businesslike way. You talk to a local hotel, and we are looking at bringing people from, say, Bogota and Panama City and Rio, but without talking to them, you are doing no good for anyone, and so we are looking at the potential and what is there,” he said.
The Department of Tourism did not respond on Tuesday to queries about its tender, which sets Jan. 13 as a deadline for responses. The invitation did not mention when the department would make its selection or when consultations might start and finish.
Mr. Kirkconnell hopes that South American “hub cities” might be named, funneling passengers to George Town from high-income areas like those in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas.
“Think of the chain of what happens to people who want to vacation in the Caribbean and Cayman,” he said, as they move from prosperous residential communities to central air terminals, “which make it easy to visit Cayman if they are within, say, four hours.”
Cayman Airways, he said, is a “tool” that can develop new “gateways of wealth” smoothing the path for Latin American visitors to George Town, even potentially spurring local airlines to create their own Cayman routes.
Fresh airlift would help fill the 20 percent more hotel rooms expected to become available in the next two to three years, the minister said.
The five-star, 226-room Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa opened Nov. 15. Owner Dart Development plans a second five-star hotel nearby. In March, it will buy the former Hyatt Hotel and Britannia Golf Course. Also, the Ironshore tourism/residential community is planned for Frank Sound, while another hotel is planned for Beach Bay. Cayman Enterprise City is scheduled to break ground this year on its 50-acre Fairbanks Road site.
Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism registered just more than 345,000 air arrivals on 2016 and 1.5 million cruise visitors.
“Stay-over visitors this year  are at the highest percentages they’ve ever been,” Mr. Kirkconnell said.
He said Cayman’s average daily rate for hotel rooms, at US$350 easily the highest in the region, is unlikely to discourage Southern Hemisphere visitors.
“If you look at the U.S. zip codes [of Cayman tourists], they earn about US$200,000 per year. It’s the same in Latin America,” he said.
Still, he said, growth could be impeded while the $55 million airport expansion, which is not scheduled for completion until late 2018, is underway. Once completed, it is expected to quadruple passenger capacity to 2.5 million per year.