EDITORIAL – More input sought on tourism plan: Here’s ours

We agree, in principle, with the idea of a strategic plan outlining goals and priorities for the Cayman Islands’ critical tourism sector. We also would concede that government has a necessary role in establishing the broad parameters in which the tourism industry must operate. That interest is properly expressed through the enactment of laws (no gambling or topless beaches), regulations (zoning, noise, Sunday retail restrictions) and establishing and enforcing practices that are conducive to domestic tranquility (safety and security, in particular).

Beyond that tourism is, and should be, primarily, a private sector undertaking. Whenever government trespasses into that space – say by either owning, operating or subsidizing attractions (think the Cayman Turtle Centre and Pedro St. James), it competes with private operators and diminishes the real demands of the marketplace.

It is in this context that we comment on the five-year tourism “plan,” prepared by the Ministry and Department of Tourism and released yesterday. Ironically, the five-year plan has taken more than two years to produce, and it’s far from done. The current draft itself is largely based on public comment already solicited this spring at community meetings held on all three islands. And now the ministry is seeking yet more public input.

As Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell explains, “It is imperative that the community remains involved in the process because ultimately, this very important economic pillar of our society can only thrive with your support.”

Well, maybe …

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At some point, public input and decision-making-by-consensus becomes more of an exercise in CYA than in leadership. Reports are delayed (this one is months behind its due date) and leading-edge recommendations are diluted – or eliminated entirely.

In this case, the draft contains largely a long list of known problems and challenges, including: Slow and frustrating airport experiences; deficiencies in public transportation and taxi regulation; inadequate solid waste and recycling services; congestion and overcrowding in key areas; chaotic concessions on public beaches; and a general lack of forward thinking.

Let us dare state what the report did not address (other than acknowledging its existence): This country has yet to resolve whether its future lies in being a high-end stay-over jurisdiction or a mass-market cruise ship destination.

BOTH may be the safe answer. Certainly, each makes substantial contributions to the economy – but the reality is they may not be mutually compatible.

Simply put, cruise tourism is a volume industry – the more the better – while stay-over tourism is about quality over quantity. Adjectives such as “exclusive,” “private” or “elite” are attractions to an upscale market but anathema to those with both limited dollars and time.

Already Cayman crams into its extremely limited land mass more than 1.7 million cruise ship visitors, and the proposed new cruise pier project supposedly would need to add a few hundred thousand more, for hours longer each day, in order to be financially viable.

As the report points out, already Cayman’s most desirable attractions (Seven Mile Beach and Stingray City) are becoming so overcrowded that they are becoming less desirable. In the immortal words of seer and sage Yogi Berra, “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

So which is it to be? Stay-over tourism or cruise ship tourism?

Answer that question and then it will be much easier to address follow-on questions such as: Should we build the $200 million cruise dock or should we plan to expand, replace or relocate Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport?

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  1. The only places where cruise boat people could go to enjoy lunch at a beachside restaurant (Calico Jacks, Royal Palms) are now closing to make way for more luxury Dart-owned hotels. Which has already spawned an ugly 600 foot tunnel over what used to be a scenic beach road.

    Where then will these cruise boat people go? The public beach is already crowded and there are no restaurants there anyway. Besides, how about keeping that public beach for OUR public?

    They can certainly have lunch at one of these hotels. But will they be allowed use of the Ritz-Carlton, Seafire or future Four Seasons etc. hotels after that high quality but expensive lunch? Hardly desirable to the hotel guests paying some $500 per night to stay there.

    We no longer can cope with large volumes of cruise boat people and should REDUCE their numbers and only accommodate smaller but more luxurious boats, not INCREASE their numbers. So let’s finally say NO to the cruise port plans and devote our government money to promoting STAYOVER tourism.

  2. Sadly, this editorial embodies one rather delusional concept that DoT have been plugging away at for the past decade or so.

    In order to become a ‘high-end stay-over jurisdiction’ these islands need to offer a heck of a lot more than high-priced (dare I say over-priced?) hotel rooms. The ‘high-end’ image that DoT has seems to revolve around rich people paying insane rates for rooms simply because they are expensive. In a way this is an attitude reminiscent of the way many of our elected representatives and senior civil servants seem to manage their regular off-island ‘jollies’ but it’s wrong and dangerously so. Would anyone argue that resorts like Sandals are low-end? I certainly hope not because they beat the heck out of anything we can offer at the moment and more than that, because they are very good value for money, they attract the kind of all-inclusive package tourists (the ones DoT look down their noses at because they’re regarded as ‘low-end’) in their hordes. This is a huge, highly-profitable market that we have simply by-passed because the people who make the decisions not only cannot grasp its importance but, because they also don’t really understand the global tourism industry, have dismissed as little more than a spin-off from the notorious (and definitely very low-end!) cheapo ‘Brits on the p***’ packages to places like Ibiza.

    One of things this editorial got spot on is the fact our main attraction, Grand Cayman, is becoming so overcrowded it’s putting people off. GC is also dirty, over-developed and generally developing a scruffy, unfinished image – in many ways it reminds me of parts of the Costa del Sol back in the 1980s and that’s not a good comparison. None of this is a good background for ambitions of ‘high-end’ tourism. Frankly, taking what’s on offer now and trying to transform it into something that will compete with and tap into the kind of up market tourism product that DoT are fanaticising over is already a bit like trying to polish the proverbial and if the dock is built you can forget it.

    As for a government five-year plan? LOL, I remember five-year plans back in the days of the old Soviet Union. It fact I was out there when the last one collapsed in 1991. All they did there was feed vested interests and I rather suspect that will be the case here unless someone can find a way to break through the ‘what’s in it for me?’ mentality that pervades so much of CIG’s work.

    Forget high-end tourism, it’s a very fragile and limited market. What we need are the kind of tourists who come here for a break on a reasonable budget – they’re the ones who get out and spend money and they’re also the ones who, if you look after them properly, will not only come back but will recommend these islands to their friends and relatives.

    And if you’re using quotes try this one attributed to the drug smuggler George Jung, ‘Life passes most people by while they’re making grand plans for it,’ because that’s what seems to be happening here. People have found it’s much easier to talk about what they’re going to do than actually do it.

  3. Stay over tourism spend 100 times more per day than a cruise ship passenger. It is a no brained that stay over tourism is where government and DOT should be marketing to.
    The cruise ship berthing is a waste of time and money with no return and it has been proven from other destinations like St Criox and other islands.

  4. We were so concerned about stopping development in the Eastern Districts that we forgot tourists took over 7 mile each. What I mean by that is cruise ship people could have been going to the East. Wouldn’t that solve the overcrowding? But alas the last property on 7 mile beach is going to the rich tourists who will enjoy their exclusivity. They are not hiring Caymanians and will be happy not to see many at their bars or restaurants. The Conservation Law have stopped any development North of the new East-West arteriel road from Newslands to Frank Sound. Couldn’t we have made Kaboo go there? They didn’t need a beach, they could have made a huge wave pool and help to get rid of more mosquitoes. How about a zip line? We could build a tower 5 stories tall across Pedro St james to Fuertado point. How about the underground water in the Aquifer in East End? They could be just like the Cenotes in Mexico. We have the same geology as Isla de Mujeres or Cozumel, Mexico. But we don’t have the crime. Turtle Nest Inn was the 3rd best place rated in the Caribbean and its in Bodden Town. We have land wealth and no ability to get a loan. Plenty of ideas and vision.
    Cruis ship business allows Caymanians to succeed where they would fail on 7 mile beach hotel market. People pass 50 yo would be offered a paultry CI$ 6 per hour with “consider yourself lucky” or “thats what the job offers.” Management should have been used to control unacceptable attitudes or behaviours for rogue licenses or performances on cruise ship piers. We had a fight thursday by 2 women selling to tourists. They had to call police, sad. But who sees this stuff and who controls this business? 30 years and more and more competition from people who can’t hardly speak english, no education, not from here and a open door policy to expand a business without expecting to need more customers? We need to build a dock and build it soon. Nobody who comments here knows anything about Cruise Ship business. I have worked for 45 years in hotels from bar tendering to Night Auditor, Dive resorts Casa Bertmar to Holiday Inn, Dive companies Peter Milburn, Ron Kipp, Jim Brown, NAUI, PADI open water Dive Instructor, Heavy Equipment,dredge boat, drag line, dump truck etc. last but not least Tour /Taxi operator 30 years. Anyway thats my resume. We need a dock and hopefully we shouldn’t forget all the nansayers when Berkely Bush had protesters saying the same thing. Thank God he didn’t listen to them true leadership and visionary for the Future of our Islands.