In normal circumstances, an influx of 250,000 additional tourists would be cause for celebration. But Grand Cayman’s windfall comes at a cost to its Caribbean neighbors.
The island will be inundated with cruise passengers over the next six months, with multiple ships diverting from hurricane ravaged islands in the eastern Caribbean.
Around 70 additional cruise calls are expected in George Town between now and April, according to the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands.
A new schedule, through the end of December, shows at least seven days when six ships will be in port at one time. The busiest single day will be Nov. 14, when 21,084 passengers will arrive in George Town.
Hurricane Irma and Maria devastated the tourism infrastructure of some of the most popular islands in the eastern Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
With the recovery effort expected to take months, if not years in some cases, several major cruise lines have rerouted ships through Cayman and Jamaica.
A spokesperson for the Port Authority said it was increasing security staff to cope with the additional demand.
Businesses along the George Town waterfront are already starting to see an impact.
Luigi Moxam, who owns Cayman Cabana, said the bar was busier than usual for this time of year.
“It is a little bit surreal, because we are very conscious and aware of what those other islands are going through. It is bittersweet, to be honest,” he said. “We are appreciative of extra business but we always keep in mind why that is and we are trying to do our best to aid the relief efforts and do what we can for our friends in other islands. I am happy to see what people in this community are doing to reach out and assist.”
On Thursday, the streets of George Town were thronged with tourists, ducking into shops and bars to escape the intermittent showers.
Many of them had arrived on the Carnival Splendor, initially destined for St. Maarten, Grand Turk, St. Thomas and St. Kitts.
“We figured we wouldn’t be going to those islands unless it was some kind of humanitarian mission,” said one couple, from Ohio, who gave their names as Ken and Sherri.
They were officially informed of the ship’s new route days before departure.
Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines have all announced changes to their itineraries, through to the end of the year at least, as a result of hurricane damage.
A spokesman for Carnival told the Cayman Compass there would be several additional calls scheduled in Cayman over the coming months.
Robert Hamaty, owner of the Tortuga Rum Company, said his business was seeing the impact of the influx in both Cayman and Jamaica.
“You never like to prosper from someone else’s despair, but it has picked up significantly,” he said. “I am sure the cruise ships will go back to those islands as soon as they can. They have invested heavily in the eastern Caribbean and as soon as they start to recover, they will go back.
“The hurricanes have had a big impact on those islands and it is very sad. It is what it is and we are prepared for it and hoping we don’t end up with any late storms ourselves.”
The Port Authority says it is equipped to handle the influx of additional ships.
“With deep compassion for the affected islands, the Port Authority is in support of the wider Cayman Islands Government’s aid and recovery efforts to help these islands recover and become operational as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Cayman Port is happy to be able to offer our islands as an alternative destination for cruise calls, and our community is equally committed to showing its Caymankind hospitality,” the spokesperson said.
The Cayman Islands suffered a dip in cruise arrivals immediately after Hurricane Ivan, but cruise companies were credited with bringing the first tourists back to these shores as the recovery began to take effect.