Concerns about offering a substandard product to cruise ship tourists stalled Cayman Turtle Centre efforts to invite visitors on an excursion to West Bay Public Beach during this year’s high season.
A small number of cruise ship visitors were on the beach Wednesday where beach chairs, umbrellas and lifeguards were set up by the Turtle Centre as part of an effort to boost tourism in the district.
Cayman Turtle Centre Director Tim Adam said Wednesday that three such trips were done earlier in the year with passengers from one of the cruise lines, but stiff winds and weather later in the season temporarily took away some of the beach during February and March.
“We did three occasions with the first cruise line before we suspended sales due to excessive beach erosion from adverse wave action,” Mr. Adam said. “Being at the north end of Seven Mile Beach, [West Bay Public Beach] is most vulnerable to that kind of sand movement.”
Turtle Centre officials decided to discontinue the beach tours until the conditions improved, not wanting travelers to be disappointed in their experience.
“We want to offer the beach excursion to a small number of tourists [around 100],” Mr. Adam said. “We want it to feel like there’s a bit of exclusivity.”
What the Turtle Centre does not seek to reproduce is the current throng on the main Seven Mile Public Beach where vendors crowd the beach area, chairs are left on the sand after hours and touts compete for customers.
The West Bay location, just south of the Turtle Centre property on North West Point Road, is a few miles north of where private sector beach vendors have set up and offers largely the same service to far fewer people.
The private vendors on the main Public Beach have been there since about 2010-11 with varying levels of support, as well as resistance, from local residents and government. A compromise was worked out early last year, resulting in a new law requiring the registration and oversight of those businesses.
Under the new arrangement, the newly created government Public Lands Commission will manage the revamped attraction, which includes 16 slots close to the carpark for vendors of deck chairs, food, crafts and shore excursions.
Plans for upgrades to Seven Mile Public Beach, including volleyball and beach soccer courts, as well as huts for beach vendors and designated spots for food trucks, were also approved for the area. The plans also involve additional landscaping around a grassy area for campers, close to the existing children’s park.
Mr. Adam said earlier in the year that on West Bay Beach, the beach chairs and other items would not be left on the public beach area and lifeguards would be on duty at all times during the passenger excursion.
The West Bay Public Beach operation is not just to the benefit of the Turtle Centre, Mr. Adam said. The tourism attraction will add other local vendors to the site (some are already there, selling trinkets or barbecue). Mr. Adam said the new attraction should add to employment and economic opportunity in the center’s “home base” of West Bay.
He also said the new tourism offering has received the full support of the Tourism Ministry and Cabinet members, as well as a number of West Bayers.
“Many people in the neighborhood and in the community have come up to Raymond [Hydes, the center’s chief sales officer] or me … to express their encouragement and appreciation for bringing this fresh new initiative to West Bay,” Mr. Adam said.