A tour operator who rents beach chairs to cruise tourists on a stretch of beach in West Bay says the beach land belongs to his family and that all the necessary business licenses have been obtained, after a Facebook photo of the sun loungers and umbrellas led to criticism of the venture on social media.
Ronaldo Garcia of The Tour Company Cayman Ltd. launched the beach chair rental business on Monday.
However, some social media users reacted angrily to an image of the yellow umbrellas lining the beach.
“They posted saying we set up illegally without a permit,” Mr. Garcia said.
But, he added, the beach land on Mary Mollie Hydes Road, by Boggy Sand Road, is a lot that belongs to his uncle Jimmy Powell, as well as Tony Powell, the owner of Heritage Kitchen restaurant, located only a few steps away.
“We had to present that to the Department of Commerce and Investment and the Trade and Business Licensing Board for them to grant us a license. And everything was granted,” he said, adding that the type of business he set up had been described “to the T” in the application.
The two rows of beach chairs are located above the high-water mark, he said.
“When I applied for the business license, to be on the safe side, I provided an aerial view by Lands and Survey of that exact lot,” Mr. Garcia said.
He confirmed that Department of Commerce and Investment enforcement officers had visited the location in response to local media coverage and had received every piece of evidence they needed to see.
“I explained the whole situation and they are in the process of straightening everything out,” Mr. Garcia said.
The Tour Company has been operating for 14 years and offers 16 tours islandwide from the Turtle Farm to Pedro’s Castle and Rum Point.
On Thursday, the company’s latest business appeared to be doing well with about two dozen occupied sun loungers. “We are trying to keep it limited to 45 to 50 people at a time,” said Mr. Garcia, “so we don’t overwhelm and overcrowd the people.”
The tourist venture is not the only business catering to tourists in the area.
Just 100 yards down the beach, K’Man Sun Splash Watersports, a licensed tour company, provides sun loungers and food to cruise ship tourists on private beach land belonging to Alfresco Restaurant with the permission of the land owner.
The business meets all the necessary requirements under Cayman law and the beach chairs are otherwise not offered for rent, said company owner Shaun Ebanks.*
Last month, a tour company offering snorkel trips to Smith Cove in George Town was moved off that beach amid public outcry about commercial activity encroaching on the popular site.
However, in that case, the tour operator, Anchor Tours, had set up sun loungers and provided snacks and snorkel gear on public, rather than private, land.
While beach vendors can generally apply to the Public Lands Commission for permission to offer their services on public property, commercial activity is expressly prohibited at Smith Cove.
Currently, the Public Lands Commission only considers permissions for beach vendors to operate on public land, within certain parameters on Seven Mile Beach. If granted, this would be included in the business licensing application.
If a business has been licensed to operate on private beach land and obtained written permission from the land owner, the only enforcement issue is whether the activity extends to government land or blocks access rights to the beach in any way. The situation is similar for hotel operators who offer beach chairs to hotel guests on their premises, but cannot block anyone from using the beach in front of their property.
Mr. Garcia said because his is a new business, he understands that people are wondering if his tourist venture has been set up correctly. But, he said, everybody has access to and can use the beach.
*Editor’s note: This article was amended. A previous version stated that the beach chairs next to Al Fresco were available for rent.