After record-breaking tourism figures in the first half of 2018, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell expects growth to continue through the end of the year.
He said the new daily JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale, additional American Airlines flights out of Chicago and new capacity on Air Canada flights from Toronto will help fuel even greater increases in tourism.
The minister also highlighted the growth of Airbnb in Cayman and several new hotel projects in the pipeline as central to the continued long-term growth of the industry.
The first six months of the year saw a 20-percent increase in tourism overall and a 16-percent rise in air arrivals – the key metric for gauging the health of the industry. Mr. Kirkconnell said a total of 215,000 extra visitors had brought an additional $60 million in direct spending to island businesses.
“When you look at this increase in spending, it is something that continues all the way through. It is being felt by every part of our economy,” he said in a video presentation. Mr. Kirkconnell said a balance of new airlift and additional rooms coming online meant the Cayman Islands was in good shape for continued growth. He said Airbnb was bringing new and more affordable rooms into the market and allowing the Cayman Islands to advertise itself as a destination to a broader demographic.
Last year, some 8,600 guests stayed at the 470 Airbnb properties in Grand Cayman, netting a combined $3.8 million for property owners, according to the company. An agreement between government and Airbnb, signed in March, is expected to facilitate further growth in this sector.
“Airbnb is an important addition,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “One of the parts that we really like is that it gives the opportunity for everyone to be involved in tourism.”
He said it was a chance to put Caymanians front and center in the industry and allow local entrepreneurs to share in the islands’ success.
He also highlighted new hotel developments planned for the next few years as a sign of the health of the industry. A developer has announced plans for a Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Beach Bay, Bodden Town, while Dart has been linked with a Four Seasons Hotel development on Seven Mile Beach and the Howard Hospitality Group is involved with a project to bring a Hyatt resort to the old Pageant Beach site.
Mr. Kirkconnell added, “Airbnb has given us smaller properties and opportunities but we can’t forget the 20 percent room stock coming in the next three years.
Some of the hotel brands we are now attracting give us the ability to look from five-star down to where we have a mixed offering, and we try to look at that as an opportunity for marketing to a wide range of customers.”
The Department of Tourism also announced that it has hired a new creative and advertising company, The Richards Group, based out of Dallas, Texas, to work on its campaigns.