Read and rejoice!

Despite what some people may believe, we prefer printing positive news in the Compass, and in last Friday’s paper, we had some very good news indeed.

Minister of Tourism Moses Kirkconnell made the announcement: In 2017, the Cayman Islands tourism arrivals (air and sea) totaled just over 2.1 million visitors, a collective record for Cayman. Importantly, 418,403 passengers disembarked at Owen Roberts International Airport, an increase of 8.5 percent from the previous year. The rise in air passengers is especially significant since their “spend” while on island far exceeds those visitors (still very welcome) that arrive on cruise ships but spend only a few hours (and consequently far fewer dollars) during their stay with us.

Here is a short “snapshot” of numbers, previously unpublished, that The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, General Manager Marc Langevin sent us to illustrate the economic activity that just one hotel – his – generated for Grand Cayman over the Christmas holiday. The numbers are based on bookings from The Ritz-Carlton concierge, and do not include “direct bookings” from the hotel’s guests:

  • The Ritz provided 850 round trips, to and from the airport, during the festive week
  • The Ritz made reservations for 6,000 “covers” for its hotel guests at Cayman restaurants
  • The Ritz provided the transportation for 550 round trips for its guests to restaurants, excursions and island attractions.

Economists often speak of the “multiplier effect” of visitor spending; Mr. Langevin’s numbers, demonstrating the economic impact of just one hotel, make them far more “real.”

The good news in the tourism sector, we believe, is just beginning.

Anyone who has embarked, or disembarked, at the newly renovated and expanded Owen Roberts terminal cannot be anything but impressed with our new airport facility.

It’s airy, bright, spacious, and, we believe, both beautiful and functional. Airlift is critical to filling hotel rooms and local business coffers, and just last week JetBlue announced it will begin flying in October daily flights between Fort Lauderdale and Grand Cayman. We welcome them, as we do Southwest Airlines, which flies the same route but now has announced that beginning in June, it will initiate direct service between Houston and Grand Cayman.

(One word on the Southwest flights, based on considerable personal experience. Southwest flies in to Fort Lauderdale’s “Terminal One,” which, like Owen Roberts, has also been renovated and expanded. It’s sparkling and spotless, which means that passengers will have a first-class experience at both ends of their journey.)

We would be remiss talking about airports if we did not include a nudge to government on the downtown cruise ship port. The planning for this project is taking far too long – discussions have been ongoing for multiple decades – and the design (actually re-design) and financing plans remain known (if they exist at all) only to a few – consultants, government officials, and, no doubt, influential insiders.

That is no way to build consensus for a project as extensive – and expensive – as the port.

The cruise industry, along with stayover travel, are the two legs upon which Cayman’s hospitality sector stands. More broadly, they are inextricably linked to the health of Cayman’s overall economy and its most important byproduct – the standard of living of the Caymanian people.