Tourist air arrivals are continuing to increase, with the Cayman Islands on course to attract a record number of more than 400,000 visitors this year.

In the first six months of the year, 218,235 stay-over tourists arrived in Cayman, a 3.6 percent increase over the same period last year. A total of 385,451 stay-over tourists landed in Cayman in 2016, the highest recorded to date.

The opening of a new direct route between Fort Lauderdale and Grand Cayman and the impact of renewed marketing efforts in Latin America were credited with driving a particularly strong tourism performance in June. Nearly 40,000 visitors touched down at Owen Roberts International Airport in June – almost 13 percent better than the same period last year.

The surge in air arrivals offsets a slight decrease in the cruise sector, where passenger numbers for the first six months of 2017 are down 9 percent.

Though the volume of cruise passengers is typically higher, air arrivals account for around 80 percent of tourist spending on island and is considered the key metric for the health of the industry.

Director of Tourism Rosa Harris said her department is now placing a new emphasis on Latin America. Arrivals from that region grew by 45 percent in June, and Ms. Harris sees room for further gains.

She said expansion into Brazil and Argentina has been a long-term goal for some time and is now moving toward the top of the agenda.

“Travelers from Brazil and Argentina rely heavily on travel agencies and tour operators, and the department is working with a local agency to help drive demand through these channels,” said Ms. Harris.

“Cities such as Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires have a high proportion of travelers who align with our desired demographic and are keen to visit our shores.”

She added, “Having successfully raised brand awareness of the Cayman Islands as a vacation destination, our focus is shifting towards accelerating growth in high value visitors from these regions.

“Capturing even a small percentage of the market would be very lucrative for our economy since the travelers tend to gravitate towards the higher end of our tourism product and particularly enjoy diving, shopping and fine dining.”

The United States remains Cayman’s key source market for tourists, with visitors from that country accounting for 82 percent of tourists flying into Cayman so far this year.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said significant increases are being seen from Houston and Dallas, Texas.

He blamed economic factors for a dip in arrivals from the U.K. and Canada and said the Department of Tourism would be using promotions and airline partnerships to turn that around in the second half of the year.

He said he is optimistic that the 400,000 target will be achieved in 2017.

“Maintaining an upward trajectory is good for our economy, good for business and good for the people of the Cayman Islands,” he said.

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  1. The increase in air travellers is certainly evident when using the airport. Perhaps the CIAA can give us an update on the new facilities, in particular, when they will be completed, but also whether there will more than one food outlet airside.

  2. It’s a pity the Hon Minister wasn’t a bit more forthcoming with some of the arrival stats that don’t make quite such happy reading.

    UK arrivals – 6808, down just under 10% on the first six months of 2016 and stuck at slightly below the same level they have been for the past decade. Bottom line – UK tourists and divers aren’t coming here even though alternatives like the Sinai coast resorts have been closed since the beginning of 2016. Put in perspective – before the problems in Egypt started one UK tour operator was flying more UK tourists than that into Sharm El Sheik every month.

    European arrivals – 13,844 in Jan-June 2016 but just 11,294 this year, a fall of almost 12%. Again these are markets hit by events in the Middle East and North Africa but we’re clearly not picking up the slack.

    Canada – Arrival figures have pretty much flat-lined 14,080 to 14, 306 but again that’s the general level it’s been for years, the numbers aren’t improving. At the same time the flow of Canadians into Cuba shows no sign of easing off.

    The harsh reality is that when it comes to these key markets the Cayman Islands have two huge problems – we’re not catering for the current AI tourist market and we’re too darn expensive when compared with the competition. It’s not, as Minister Kirkconnell claims, simply about economic factors but a wide range of issues including providing what customers want rather than what DoT think they want (the ‘If we build it, they will come’ mentality) and good old-fashioned value for money.

    You can build all the $400-$450 a night hotel rooms you want but when your competitors can offer a week’s all-inclusive holiday (flights, transfers, meals and drinks) in comparable accommodation for under $1200 per person all the promotions and airline partnerships (whatever happened to the 2010 CAL/Virgin deal?) in the world aren’t going to turn things around.

    The only thing saving local tourism right now is President Trump’s opposition to the normalisation of US/Cuban relations but it’s only a matter of time before harsh economic realities force him to bow to commercial pressures and ease up on that.

    What you are seeing now is simply the culmination of years of muddled thinking and bad planning that have lost the Cayman Islands the opportunity to become a serious player in tourism markets outside the USA.