Retailers in Grand Cayman reported a strong Christmas shopping season in spite of the impact of bad weather at the most lucrative time of the year.
A total of 14 cruise ships bypassed Cayman because of December storms and George Town’s main street was closed to traffic as waves battered the harbor on the last Saturday before Christmas.
Despite those setbacks, businesses reported strong sales bolstered by high tourism arrivals and on-island consumer spending.
Matthew Bishop, CEO of Cayman Distributors Group and Island Companies, said it had been a “B-plus” season for the group’s collection of stores, which span various sectors of the market, including jewelry, watches, sunglasses, souvenirs and liquor.
He acknowledged that the loss of ships downtown, including five on a single day the week before Christmas, had an impact, but said the group still hit its targets.
“We managed to hold on pretty well downtown,” he said. “It was more than last year but perhaps not quite as much as we expected.”
He said the tourism spend on island appeared to be lower than anticipated.
“We didn’t get quite as much hotel traffic as we expected, but on the plus side, we opened our airport store and that has done really well,” he added.
Chris Kirkconnell, vice president of Kirk Freeport and the current president of the Chamber of Commerce, said it had been a successful retail season. He said he had been concerned when a strong “nor’wester” forced the closure of South Church Street on Dec. 22.
“We were definitely concerned but we still saw quite a bit of foot traffic, even though the road was closed,” he said. “We might have expected a little more business on the Saturday before Christmas, but it wasn’t too bad.”
He said sales had dipped after Christmas, something he believes could be linked to the turmoil in the U.S. financial markets.
Robert Hamaty, owner of the Tortuga Rum Company and a member of the Royal Watler Tenants Association, said all the businesses in the group had reported a strong season. Though some ships did not stop off because of the weather, he said the overall growth in tourism was helping businesses.
While it was not ideal to see a dozen or more ships unable to dock, he said there had been far worse seasons.
“Some years ago we lost 92 ships during the season because there were so many nor’westers,” he recalled.
According to the Port Authority a total of 14 ships, carrying 24,304 passengers, bypassed Grand Cayman, mostly because of weather issues, in December.
The storm at the weekend before Christmas did more direct damage to some businesses.
Paradise Restaurant and Rackam’s bar on the George Town waterfront were among those that were forced to close for the weekend to make repairs to damaged decking and pillars.
The Royal Watler dock also suffered some damage. Joey Woods, acting director of the Port Authority, said there was damage to the chain-link fence on the water side, asphalt on the dock and a drain blew out.
He said port staff had the equipment restored and ready for cargo operations by Sunday the same weekend. He said storms were a part of the landscape for port workers in Cayman.
“Every so often, there is a strong one,” he said. “That is Mother Nature. We just prepare for it and implement the plan once it has passed.”
Water-sports operators also took a hit as bad weather reduced the number of days when marine-based tour operators were able to take guests out on the water.
Curtis Eldemire, of Marineland tours, said around five days had been lost at Stingray Sandbar. But he said this was not out of the ordinary for this time of year.
Overall, he said, business was “rocking.”