Tourism and the future of development in the Cayman Islands became a major focus of discussion on Tuesday night, when five candidates took the stage at the Camana Bay Arts & Recreation Center in the second national debate leading up to the May 24 elections.
Three of the four candidates vying for a seat in Bodden Town East – Dwayne Seymour, Robert Bodden and Osbourne Bodden – attended, as did Maxine Bodden Robinson, who is one of four candidates in Bodden Town West.
Alva Suckoo, one of four candidates in Newlands, also attended.
The debate was viewed by a scant number in person, but nearly 2,700 people on Facebook Live.
The first topic was the Go East initiative and how the respective candidates would spur development in their respective districts.
Robert Bodden, a member of the Cayman Democratic Party, said the most important thing to revive Bodden Town is having a coherent plan for zoning. “Currently, we’re doing a lot of hodgepodge development without a plan,” he said of the current lack of re-zoning. “It’s not cohesive. People are still driving to George Town to find work and benefit from the tourism that is already on Seven Mile Beach. We have to diversify our tourism product.”
Osbourne Bodden, Minister of Community Affairs, Youth and Sports, said his district has a lot of potential for ecotourism if the money can be found to take advantage of it.
“I think we have a lot to offer,” said Mr. Bodden, a member of the Progressives. “Bodden Town East is the historic capital and we have a lot there that is not being exploited and used to its full extent. I think there’s a need for start-up capital. A lot of people would benefit if they had access to funding. But we need to look at Bodden Town East and realize there’s so much potential.”
Cruise berthing facility
The next hot topic was a potential berthing facility that would allow cruise ships visiting Cayman to dock instead of requiring passengers to be ferried ashore by tenders. Dwayne Seymour spoke up against the planned facility, while Osbourne Bodden and Mr. Suckoo supported it.
Mr. Seymour, an independent, said he is not convinced that the new facility is needed at this time, and that ultimately the environment of Seven Mile Beach is most important to the tourism product.
“What they are telling us is the experience of the tourists coming here is not as enjoyable, and more people need to get off the ship,” he said. “They’re not getting off the ship because they have to come by tender. When I check it out, other Caribbean islands like Cayman, the same amount of people are still staying on ship and they have piers. For that reason, I’m not convinced as yet.”
Mr. Suckoo, an independent, made a case for building the facility but doing it responsibly. He said he is in favor of using a deepwater berth and using pylons as opposed to dredging near the shore, but most importantly, he said, the citizens of Cayman need to decide what they want for their future.
“We need to decide if we want the mega-ships or if we want to stick with the smaller class ships. Do we want to focus on mass cruise tourism or do we want to focus on stay-over?” he said. “I know we can balance that. We can have a blend, but we need to answer that question and be working on a plan. We don’t want to be the next Cancun or the next Jamaica. We want to retain our originality and we need to define our tourism product that capitalizes [on] what the Cayman Islands should be.”
Robert Bodden and Mr. Suckoo both referenced the recent change in the pension law, saying they thought the reports of a potential mass exodus of foreign workers were exaggerated. But even if they were true, said Mr. Suckoo, this would be a perfect time to focus on filling those jobs with Cayman citizens.
“We have tourism businesses telling us there’s going to be a mass exodus of people from these islands,” he said. “Why haven’t they embraced and prepared and trained Caymanians to take those jobs?
“Why is it now that they’re going to go out and raise the alarm that they’re going to lose 2,500 employees? There should’ve been 2,500 Caymanians prepared to take those jobs.”
Another debate topic was trade schools and whether Caymanian citizens would benefit from having an alternate path to education and different types of careers. Maxine Bodden Robinson said it is not clear whether there are enough people interested in a trade school education.
“We actually need to think about what a trade school is and whether it’s needed,” she said. “It’s a sexy buzzword. Everybody is on about having a trade school because not everybody is academically inclined. I absolutely agree. Not everybody can be lawyers, doctors and whatever else. There are lots of people that like to work with their hands and whatever it might be, but we need to start at the very beginning when our children are entering that school system to see what their abilities are.”
Robert Bodden agreed. “Everybody’s a genius. But if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, you will continue to think he’s stupid,” he said. “Each one cannot be a rocket scientist, accountant or a doctor. When you say trade schools or technical schools, that includes the arts, it includes music, it includes drama.
“We have to diversify our education system. The mere fact that we have two pillars of our economy, which is all service, a failure to diversify our educational system is a disservice to the people in this country and to the educational system as a whole.”