Eric Bergstrom, pioneer in Cayman tourism, passes at 85

Bergstrom remembered fondly by family, former colleagues

Eric Bergstrom died Saturday in his home at Pompano Beach, Florida, leaving a legacy of being one of the key figures in developing the territory’s tourism industry.

Mr. Bergstrom, who would have turned 85 on Sunday, was born in Wisconsin on Oct. 14, 1933. He graduated from Dartmouth College and worked for a brief period in his home state before visiting Cayman in 1961 with his then-wife Suzy Soto.

They moved here in 1963 to run the original Tortuga Club in East End – what’s now known as Morritt’s Tortuga Club and Resort. The Tortuga Club hosted Jacques Cousteau, Emil Gagnon, the Lord of Bath, Prince Charles and other notable guests.

When the Cayman Islands Tourist Board was created in 1966, Mr. Bergstrom headed the organization, and was instrumental in increasing its budget from $7,000 in the first year to $98,000 by 1968.

This statutory board was the precedent for the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, which was created by the Tourism Law of 1974. Mr. Bergstrom served as the department’s first director.

By the time Mr. Bergstrom retired in 1988, the Department of Tourism’s budget was over $9 million a year, and there were about 75 people on the payroll.

Mr. Bergstrom eventually left the island in 1989, having spent a full 26 years here engrossed in the tourism industry. He and his second wife, Nancy, traveled the world and finally settled in Florida.

The tourism pioneer received many awards for his efforts throughout his career, including being made a Member of the British Empire in 1969.

A Jan. 9, 1969 article in The Caymanian Weekly notes that as a citizen of the United States, he had to receive permission from his government before he could accept the award.

“Mr. Bergstrom has given valuable voluntary service as Chairman of the Cayman Islands Tourist Board for a period of several years,” the article states. “He has worked unstintingly for the promotion of tourism and his efforts have contributed greatly to the success achieved since the Board was formed three years ago.”

In 2017, Mr. Bergstrom was honored during Heroes Day, receiving an award for Pioneer in Tourism.

Mr. Bergstrom is remembered fondly by his five children.

“Dad was one of the most honorable individuals I have ever known,” said daughter Sheree Ebanks. “He was honest and humble, and a very kind man who never looked toward the limelight. His ethics were beyond reproach and we are all better for having him as our dad.”

Former tourism permanent secretary Harding Watler also paid tribute to his late colleague.

“I am very saddened to hear of Eric’s passing. He was truly a pioneer and an important part of Cayman’s emergence and success as an upscale Caribbean tourism destination,” Mr. Watler said. “A true professional, who kept Cayman on the path of continued growth in quality tourism. He will be missed by all who knew him.”

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