Our country’s tourism industry is on a months-long, record-breaking, revenue-producing roll.
Here’s what we reported on the front page of Monday’s newspaper:
- Cayman’s tourism sector has posted 15 consecutive months of growth.
- In the first six months of the year, 1.3 million tourists arrived in the country, a 20 percent increase from 2017.
- The increase in visitors translated to an estimated $45 million in additional spending.
- During the first half of 2018, Cayman hosted more than 250,000 stayover visitors, a 16-percent increase from last year.
The numbers certainly speak for themselves. But even as we applaud our tourism sector’s upward trajectory, we as a country must ensure that we do not fall victim to our own success, but instead position ourselves to capitalize on long-term, sustainable economic growth.
The next stage of our development must be a renewed focus on infrastructure and service that is more than adequate to meet the demand and expectations of our first-class visitors.
Our hospitality sector continues to outdo itself in terms of attracting travelers to our shores, both by plane and ship. It is from the moment of arrival that we see the emergence of challenges.
For example, tourists arriving by air disembark via metal staircase or sloping ramp, then (with their carry-on luggage) cross the tarmac to enter the ongoing construction site that is the Owen Roberts International Airport. We argued from the outset that jetways should have been built into the budget – and the structure – of the new airport.
The form of the airport is beginning to take shape, and is a welcome upgrade, aesthetically speaking, from its beloved but timeworn predecessor. However, in terms of function, evidence is mounting that the expanded airport may not have been expanded enough, and upon its grand reopening (slated to be around the end of the year) may be underbuilt to handle “rush hour” air traffic.
We can’t help but wonder if this built-to-purpose new structure will be fit-for-purpose 5, 10, or 15 years from now if the growth rates of our stayover guests continue to expand at current levels.
Tourists arriving by sea must contend with their own set of inconveniences, as the long-awaited cruise port project remains in the planning stages.
Visitors who hail taxis or rent cars encounter even more orange cones, demarcating Grand Cayman’s ongoing road construction projects.
While Cayman’s world-class hotels and well-appointed condominiums continue to deliver spectacular service and views, the concern has become the creation of enough “rooms at the inn” to keep up with growing demand. Accordingly, developers and “moms-and-pops” are leaping into this gap in the marketplace with new resort projects and the short-term rental of private residences via online services such as Airbnb.
The good news about Cayman’s tourism situation – is the tourism situation. Issues such as the airport expansion, road construction and room inventory are not symptoms of an illness, but “growing pains” accompanying a surge in the tourism sector that has far exceeded official projections and expectations.
It’s like someone who has been pumping iron at the gym, finding that his new T-shirts have become a bit snug around the biceps.
In other words, the “problems” to which we refer in this editorial should be viewed as results of our tourism industry’s success, and opportunities to accommodate future continuing growth and development.