George Town businesses are preparing for one of the busiest days of the year Wednesday with six cruise ships bringing nearly 20,000 passengers to the island.
Police have already drafted in additional officers to the waterfront amid an almost unprecedented influx of passengers over the past few months.
The Cayman Islands is seeing spin-off benefits of the devastation wreaked by successive hurricanes on the eastern Caribbean in September. Several cruise lines have diverted ships to Cayman from impacted countries, including the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The Port Authority expects to see an additional 70 ships, brining close to 250,000 extra passengers to the island through the end of April, as a result of the hurricanes.
That has meant several days in November when six ships have been in port.
Wednesday is expected to be among the busiest days, with the 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic, the 3,600-passenger Carnival Vista and the 4,400-passenger Liberty of the Seas all in port at the same time. Also, Celebrity Reflection will bring 3,046 passengers, Marella Discovery II will have 2,076 on board and the Norwegian Pearl will bring 2,500 tourists. In total, there will be 19,722 passengers arriving in George Town, Wednesday.
Store owners said they were prepared and happy to see the impact the additional passengers were already having, though sympathetic to Caribbean neighbors who have suffered as a result of the storms.
“Our busy season definitely started much earlier than it has in the last few years,” said Chris Kirkconnell, vice president of Kirk Freeport.
“We have seen a lot of additional traffic in the store since early October, coming into the Christmas season. We are happy for the additional custom but obviously sorry for the destruction that others have suffered. We also recognize that this is temporary.”
He said the store had hired additional workers for the busy season, staffing up early this year to cope with the additional demand. He said the town appeared to be coping well with the influx of passengers with police doing a good job so far of managing traffic and pedestrians on busy days.
Matthew Bishop, CEO of Island Companies, which has several stores, including jewelry and sunglasses stores, in George Town and at Camana Bay, said its businesses were seeing improved sales across the board.
“The arrival of the cruise traffic had been fairly good and our sales have appreciated accordingly,” he said. “To a certain extent, we expected that but probably an even bigger impact has been from the high-end tourism sector. Some of that is definitely due to the storms that hit the eastern Caribbean.”
He said the only downside was the closure of the airport stores to facilitate the renovation work going on at the Owen Roberts International Airport.
Despite the increase in visitors, he said things seemed to be fewer management issues on the waterfront.
“We have found the police, particularly in the last few months, have been really engaging local retailers and working with us to ensure everything is running smoothly down there.”