Cayman Airways will begin flying direct to the western United States early next year, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell told business leaders at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast briefing Wednesday.
The Cayman Compass understands that Denver is one of the cities being considered for a new direct flight.
Mr. Kirkconnell said, “We are very close to an announcement of a new gateway for early next year. I would say that would be in the western part of the United States.”
He said the strategy was to use Cayman Airways’ new jets, which have the capacity to reach further-flung destinations, to tap into new markets.
He said there were affluent populations along the west coast, from Los Angeles to Vancouver, that were within the right demographic for Cayman’s luxury product.
“The look at new gateways is on now,” Mr. Kirkconnell said.
“We want to open the west coast because we believe it is an under-served market for Cayman.” He said research on the cost and benefit was 95 percent complete and an announcement of the new route would likely happen within the next few weeks. Speaking during a question and answer session, Mr. Kirkconnell acknowledged that Cayman Airways had already used its newest jet for a charter flight from San Diego for the rock band Kiss, who flew in for a private event in December.
The change of direction for Cayman Airways is partially borne of necessity, with the national carrier losing ground in Cuba, a formerly profitable route, because of U.S. airlines coming into that market. Mr. Kirkconnell said the national airline, in purely economic terms, was a victim of its success in Florida and in markets like Dallas. He said CAL had opened up those routes and shown the demand for Cayman as a destination to other airlines, which had now come in and flooded the market.
But, he said, Cayman Airways mission was not to make a profit itself but to allow the Cayman Islands as a destination to maximize its income.
Mr. Kirkconnell also addressed questions about the Owen Roberts International Airport redevelopment. He acknowledged the project would come in over the $55 million budget initially announced, but said this was down to some improvements that had been added to the design.
He said financial limitations had dictated the scope of the project in the early stages but government’s improved financial situation had enabled new features to be added. He cited the shaded canopies for visitors waiting for taxis outside the new terminal as one example.
He added, “We are really pleased with the value for money of what’s taken place there. In any project of that size, there are going to be changes.” He said the airport was on schedule for a soft opening in September, when the arrival and departure buildings are expected to be complete, and a full opening in December. Further improvements to the airside infrastructure, including taxiways, runway reinforcements and new plane parking space, will follow in the coming years.
The minister also sought to assure business leaders that the investment in “human capital” would match the investment in “bricks and mortar.”
He said government was working to ensure Customs and Immigration had enough officers on staff at key times to ensure a swift and efficient process.
As well as the question and answer session, Mr. Kirkconnell gave a presentation on the progress of the tourism industry, citing 20 percent growth in arrivals in the first quarter of 2018. Oneisha Richards, deputy director of the Department of Tourism, also updated Chamber members on the latest statistics and marketing strategies for the destination.
Chamber president Paul Byles said the session was part of a series of forums intended to give members access to those in power.
“Our businesses in the tourism sector want to be able to hear directly from policymakers, and that is what these sessions are about,” he said.
Future round-table events for officials and businesses are planned for the financial services and other industry sectors.