Tourism chiefs have released a five-year plan for the industry aimed at maximizing the benefits and managing the problems associated with increased arrivals.
Suggestions in the 55-page document include better management of overcrowded attractions like Stingray City, creating a workforce development plan specifically for tourism, and attracting boutique-style hotels to the eastern districts.
It also recommends the creation of a “credit facility” to make loans on favorable terms to entrepreneurs interested in creating tourism businesses or attractions.
The report also highlights concerns around overcrowding and a clash between the demands of cruise tourists and the expectations of stay-over visitors as numbers grow in both sectors.
It states, “The Cayman Islands are being promoted as an exclusive, luxurious destination and many of the accommodation providers are delivering on this promise. These efforts are undermined when large numbers of cruise ship passengers visit the beach areas of these properties and overcrowd the attractions.”
On the subject of cruise berthing, the report notes that the Cayman Islands has seen an increase of more than 100 percent in cruise arrivals over the last 20 years, from 800,000 in 1996 to more than 1.73 million in 2016. But it suggests that these numbers cannot be maintained without new cruise piers amid increased competition from other destinations.
It states, “Building a berthing facility, where cruise ships can anchor alongside a pier and passengers can disembark directly to shore, will increase visitor spending and help the Cayman Islands remain competitive as a cruise ship destination.”
However, it acknowledges that increased cruise tourism is already bringing problems, particularly at key sites.
“The convergence of stay-over and cruise visitors at popular coastal and marine attractions, such as the most visited tourist attraction – Stingray City and Sandbar – does present unique challenges from the perspectives of environmental impacts and visitor experience.”
It recommends a new visitor management program, including a designated staff member to work with “management teams” for key attractions.
Other concerns highlighted in the report, which looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the island’s tourism product, include the need to get more tourists to go east.
It states, “Attractions and activities on the western side of the island are approaching capacity limits and are now faced with a variety of significant visitor management challenges, while the eastern half of the island, which offers a less congested, more diverse, and more authentic ‘Cayman’ experience, is being under-utilized. Efforts need to be made to strike a better balance, promote more diverse visitor experiences, generate economic benefits for more residents, and enhance Grand Cayman’s competitive position.”
Another issue, highlighted in the report, is the need for better education and marketing of tourism as a career opportunity.
Suggestions include expanding the hospitality school and working with the private sector to identify and better understand the needs of employers.
To enhance business opportunities, it recommends the creation of a public-private body, called the Visitor Experience Challenge Fund, to provide grants, financing, business planning and development services, and marketing support to entrepreneurs with workable ideas for new attractions. It also suggests creating a government-backed financing program for such start-up businesses.
The plan was developed by the ministry and department of tourism, along with their private sector consultants, and involved consultation with businesses and the public.
The ministry is now looking for feedback on its draft, which can be viewed at www.caymanntp.ky.