“We broke records in January, February and March,” says Jim Mauer, the new manager at the Westin hotel on Seven Mile Beach.
“It has been the best first quarter in the history of the hotel.”
Businesses around the Cayman Islands are telling a similar story after another record-breaking tourism season.
The figures were buffered by an influx of tourists, forced to steer clear of other favorite destinations, like Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands, which are still recovering from the devastation wrought by hurricanes last year.
Even with that caveat, hoteliers say they were pleasantly surprised to see a 20 percent jump in arrival figures in the first quarter of 2018.
Marc Langevin, manager of The Ritz-Carlton, said the hotel had been virtually full from December through March. He expects to see occupancy rates in the 80 to 90 percent range all the way through to August.
And he does not believe the surge in air arrivals is a one-time thing, with the impact of the storms likely to continue to affect rival destinations into 2019.
He added that travelers who had traditionally been loyal to destinations like St. Thomas were now seeing what Cayman had to offer.
“We have to really look at this as an opportunity … make sure we don’t just enjoy a wonderful year, but look at this as a long-term investment and demonstrate the worth of our destination,” Mr. Langevin said.
With the airport moving toward completion and several hotels investing in extensive upgrades, Mr. Langevin, who is also the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s hotels director, said the money coming into the island through tourism was being reinvested to make the product better.
At the Westin, Mr. Mauer points to an extensive redesign of the hotel as evidence of that.
He said the investment in the resort and the focus on its beach were paying off.
“We are getting great comments on the redo. A lot of people were waiting for that to finish before they booked with us. We are getting guests rebooking for next year before they leave,” Mr. Mauer said.
He said occupancy rates had been in the “mid-90s” percent for the first quarter, and next year is expected to be equally strong. He believes the Kimpton hotel, Dart’s next five-star project and the KAABOO festival are all signs that the island is moving toward becoming an “ultra luxury destination.”
There is still room for more improvement, he said.
“We are still ‘unfound’ for a lot of people. I am always amazed by how many people I meet who are on their first trip to the islands,” he said.
At the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, manager Steven Andre said it had been a fantastic high season for the hotel.
The Kimpton opened in January 2017, so this year was its first full season. He said the influx of new visitors put Cayman in the shop window for repeat tourism and he expects growth to continue, though not at the same rate, in 2019.
“2018 has been a great year to expose a new audience to Grand Cayman,” Mr. Andre said. “Whether it is guests at the hotels, condos or people coming off the cruise ships, I think the people visiting Grand Cayman have gained a new appreciation for this island.”
Official statistics posted by the Department of Tourism show 134,170 visitors touched down in Cayman by air in the first three months of 2018, an increase of 20 percent on last year.
Speaking to tourism leaders at the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s general meeting last week, Minister Moses Kirkconnell gave figures for the first four months of the year, citing a 15 percent increase.
He said 23,000 additional visitors had brought $29 million in additional spending to Cayman compared with the same period last year.
Regarding the threat posed to the financial services industry by U.K. regulation, he said, “The tourism industry must shoulder more responsibility, and its significance with respect to our economic well-being is increasing.”