Tourism officials are predicting another record-breaking year for stay-over visitors in the Cayman Islands.
The anticipated 400,000 arrivals – a 4 percent increase over last year’s record of 385,451 – is something to applaud, even if you do not happen to lead sightseeing tours, let out rooms or serve up gourmet fare.
All of these visitors should be thought of as our guests – just as if they were staying inside our homes. Collectively, we are their host country. Individually, we are their hosts. We pay handsomely to “invite and entice” them to our shores through myriad marketing and promotional campaigns, and they, in turn, pay handsomely to partake of our hospitality.
Every time a tourist rents a car, buys dinner or purchases an emergency tube of sunscreen, it contributes to our local economy and funds our standard of living. Our overnight guests are especially important in this regard, accounting for some 80 percent of overall tourist spending, according to tourism officials.
Unfortunately, once our guests disembark from their flights, much of what they find is … well, a work in progress. Between the remodeling at Owen Roberts International Airport, road construction and the islandwide building boom, our visitors might perceive an environment better suited to hard hats than sun hats – at least until they finally find their way to the sanctified sands of Seven Mile Beach.
In years past, operators and officials may have had the luxury of focusing heavily on improvement and infrastructure during the traditional “slow season,” when fewer visitors were among us.
More recently, however, elbow room on Grand Cayman is in shorter supply regardless of what the calendar says, as records are being set or approached in terms of stay-over visitors, cruise visitors and, as we see on today’s front page, full-time Cayman residents (estimated to number 61,361 at the end of 2016).
During a time of steady expansion, some “growing pains” are understandable – indeed unavoidable. Keeping that in mind, we encourage our tourism sector to continue “raising the bar,” not only in terms of its physical product but, perhaps even more importantly, embracing a customer-centric approach.
Check any popular travel website, such as TripAdvisor, and you will see that small impressions and experiences can be as important to visitors as the quality of cuisine, accommodations and excursions. A friendly taxi driver will be remembered fondly, while roadside litter or boorish behavior will leave a negative impression that is difficult to erase.
We full-time islanders may be comfortable navigating roundabouts (whether they be mini or maxi in circumference), but, we can assure you, our visitors from America (home to 80 percent of all of our tourists) are not. To further complicate things, driving on the left is, well, foreign to them. An extra measure of kindness and patience is called for.
In other words, avoid tailgating, abstain from finger pointing, and lay off the horn …
Remember, Cayman is our home, and our visitors are our guests. Each and every one of us is an important member of the welcoming committee.