My husband and I have been coming to the island for 25 years, at least once each year. We’ve seen good progress and we’ve seen progress that we think is not so good. Loving the island means we also read the Compass online every day to keep informed.
When I saw the article about the new five-star hotel and multi-million dollar condos proposed on Pageant Beach, I did not rejoice. We walk the beach every evening (at different times during the year) and maybe with the exception of the Christmas holidays, as we pass the high-rise condos we rarely see more than one or two lights on. During the day, we do not see many enjoying the sun, sand and sea on their beaches. Clearly most of the owners of these very high-end condos are using them as a place to park their money for investments. Other than their ungodly monthly maintenance fees, they are not here often to contribute to the local economy in groceries, restaurants, stores, water sports, taxis, etc.
How many very high-end condos and five-star hotels does the island really need? There is the Ritz, the Kimpton, the proposed Four Seasons, and now the Pageant Beach project. At first blush, one could say they will do wonders for the employment opportunities for the local population. After or even during construction, will these new projects really be hiring high numbers of Caymanian staff? Our observations at other places is that it is unlikely. What is the saturation point? When does Seven Mile Beach lose its charm and become just another row of multi-story buildings?
Cruise passengers spend four to eight hours on the island. Many will spend more locally during that one day than absentee condo owners. If they fall in love with SMB and start looking into making it a week’s vacation spot, they are shocked at the cost of hotels. They can, and do, go elsewhere in the Caribbean to find comparable beaches for a lot less.
We understand the economies of scale (spread the cost over 10 rather than seven stories) and know the high cost of SMB property results in land developers having to build high-end properties to cover their expenses and make a profit. Thankfully, there are still a few older condo projects available (which offer reasonable rates), but is it only a matter of time before they, too, disappear and are transformed into more high-end condos and five-star hotels?
Grand Cayman has, in our opinion, focused its tourism on the high-end and on cruise passengers. The middle- to upper-middle-class tourists who would spend money in all areas of the economy have never been the target audience. They struggle to find reasonably priced accommodations. They are slowly but surely being squeezed out.
Yes, stay-over numbers may stay steady or increase for a while, but eventually, when the only product available is high-end, will that volume of tourists continue to arrive? Other islands are broadening their target markets and encouraging development that meets the needs of all classes of tourists.
It will be a sad day when, upon approach by airplane, all you see is high-rise condo and hotel buildings stretching the length of Seven Mile Beach.