A record number of tourists arrived in the Cayman Islands in 2017, with just over 2.1 million people arriving on these shores by air and sea.
Air arrivals hit record levels for the fourth year in succession, with 418,403 visitors touching down at the Owen Roberts International Airport. That represents an 8.5 percent increase on last year and 54 percent growth since 2009.
Stay-over visitation has been growing steadily for the last eight years and officials predict the number of tourists will continue to increase in 2018.
Cruise arrivals were also up last year, with 1.73 million passengers arriving at the port, a marginal 1 percent gain on last year.
The cruise total is not in itself a record, but the combined total is the highest ever recorded.
The figures, particularly in the cruise market, were skewed slightly by an influx of cruise ships diverting from islands in the eastern Caribbean impacted by Hurricane Irma.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said he expected growth to continue in the stay-over market, but stagnate in the cruise arena until a cruise berthing facility is completed.
“We expect cruise to be flat and stay-over visitation to be up by around 5 percent in 2018,” he added.
He said consistent year-on-year increases in Cayman were trickling down throughout the economy.
Based on the Department of Tourism’s analysis, stay-over tourists collectively spent some $485 million in island hotels, restaurants, attractions and businesses in the last year – a $55 million increase on 2016.
“The important part for the private sector and for entrepreneurial Caymanians is that this kind of growth translates into more business and more opportunity,” Mr. Kirkconnell said.
The U.S. and Canada were responsible for the greatest increases in arrivals in 2017, with growth rates of 13 and 6 percent, respectively.
Rosa Harris, director of the Department of Tourism, said emerging markets, including Latin America, had also played a part in the success story.
Arrivals from South America increased by 9 percent and from Central America by 6 percent.
She also credited the Department of Tourism’s “fearless innovation” in destination marketing, citing the Cayman Vows magazine targeting wedding tourism among its successful initiatives. Ms. Harris said Cayman Airways, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, had also played a major role in opening up new markets and bringing new visitors to the Cayman Islands, sometimes blazing a trail that other airlines had followed.
She said the airlift into the Cayman Islands was increasing year on year, creating new opportunities for travelers from different parts of the U.S., and further afield, to visit.
“Aviation is the catalyst to driving visitation,” she added.