Tourism officials highlighted some of the industry’s recent successes and outlined a plan to build on that growth over the next five years at a public meeting in Red Bay Wednesday night.
Around 40 people, including industry insiders and interested observers, turned out to hear details of the new five-year plan and give their thoughts on the future of the industry.
Director of Tourism Rosa Harris outlined the key goals of the plan, including:
Establishing regional tourism committees and developing distinct marketing plans for different districts
Attracting new investment in boutique hotels and “non-traditional” accommodations
Improving signage for tourism attractions
Developing a Visitor Experience Challenge Fund to assist Caymanian entrepreneurs to create new visitor experiences
Developing a CaymanKind ambassador program to enhance positive interactions between tourists and locals
Developing a task force of business and government leaders to identify barriers to tourism workforce development
Protect and manage cultural and natural resources.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the industry was strong. He said the number of visitors, the number of beds, and airline seats had all increased over the past few years.
Highlighting the number of Caymanians employed by the likes of Cayman Airways, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, the Port Authority and Turtle Centre, collectively responsible for more than $50 million in annual salaries, he said there were many more local people involved in the industry than was commonly thought.
“I use these examples to let you see how tourism touches everybody. This shows how it builds the middle class,” the minister said. “I would like to see many more of these kinds of examples represented across the country with Caymanians employed at every touch point from arrivals to departure.”
He said the plan was intended to provide a framework to manage tourism growth and offer local people more opportunities.
Billy Adam said he was concerned about the growth of new hotels that were simply “importing poverty” by employing people at $6 an hour. He asked, “Who are we developing for?” and pointed out that many of the ideas expressed in the presentation – particularly around Caymanian involvement in the industry – had been outlined in previous tourism plans, but never successfully implemented.
He said, “I call these plans agricultural plans because they get put in the glass house and when enough dust gathers on them they plant cassava.”
Others raised issues around Caymanian employment in the industry, prompting Minister Kirkconnell to reiterate the large amount of jobs at the airport, airline, port and Turtle Centre that relied on a successful tourism product.
He said progress had been made through the Hospitality School and scholarships with the U.S.-based Johnson & Wales University to bring more Caymanians into the industry and promised more would be done to connect students to new opportunities.
Other concerns raised included the impact of increasing tourism on traffic on West Bay Road and the potential for Seven Mile Beach to become overcrowded.
Harry Lalli, a former president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, warned, “In the next few years, there will be no place for the cruise passengers left to go on Seven Mile Beach. Tiki Beach is gone. Calico Jack’s could go with the hotel. What are you going to do?”
Theresa Leacock-Broderick, current president of the tourism association, commended the ideas in the plan and said she hoped the Tourism Ministry would work with other arms of government to make sure it got done.
“Many of the challenges that we are having from roads, airports, cruise berthing facility,” she said. “It’s not just tourism; many of our issues go beyond what your ministry is dealing with.
“Every four years, all the ministries, all the departments, all the authorities get shuffled. We lose momentum and we have these disconnects between infrastructure, education and everything else.”