The Cayman Islands’ cruise industry just experienced its busiest month in recorded history.
A total of 271,111 cruise visitors arrived in Grand Cayman in January, according to new figures from the Department of Tourism. That represents a 24 percent increase on the same period last year, and the strongest month for cruise arrivals ever recorded in Cayman.
Opponents of plans for a cruise berthing facility have highlighted growing cruise numbers as evidence that the multi-million dollar project is not necessary. But government and the cruise lines, who are backing the project, have said that Cayman is currently experiencing a boost in arrivals because of hurricane damage to islands in the eastern Caribbean and that the long-term trend will be for numbers to dwindle unless piers are built to accommodate larger ships.
A spokesperson for the Cruise Port Referendum Campaign said the results achieved with tendering suggested the business case for a cruise pier – which predicted year-on-year decline for the industry unless a cruise pier is built – needed to be reconsidered.
Air arrivals were also up significantly in January, with more than 40,000 visitors touching down at Owen Roberts International Airport, an increase of more than 5 percent on last year and another record for the island.
In a press statement accompanying the statistics, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell focused on the air arrival figures and said the strong performance was affirmation of government’s commitment to increase airlift to the destination.
He said new flights, including the launch of a Cayman Airways route to Denver this weekend, would help that trend continue throughout the year.
He added that the fact that the renovated airport was substantively complete was a major bonus amid record arrivals.
“With a facility triple the size of the old building, travellers through Owen Roberts International Airport can look forward to a smoother, more streamlined experience. We are committed to ensuring this experience is standard for both our air and cruise passengers.”
Arrivals from Canada were up 5 percent, while visitation from the U.S. increased by nearly 8 percent, bolstered by an increase in flights out of New York and Fort Lauderdale. Arrivals from the west coast were down in January, but that is expected to change with the opening of the new Denver route.
Director of Tourism Rosa Harris said, “With increased flight capacity just in time for the spring and summer travel season, we expect visitation from the West Coast to increase, complementing the steady progress of all our core source markets in January.”
The Cruise Port Referendum Campaign said in a statement that government should reconsider its business case to account for the growth in the industry, even with tendering, over the past few years and to analyze other options which have become more viable, such as the retractable floating SeaWalk cruise pier.
The campaign group said continually increasing cruise tourism numbers risked impacting quality of life for residents and stayover visitors.
“Our government must improve our basic infrastructure, in particular, waste management and public transport, in addition to strategies to manage overcrowding at our over-capacity famous tourist attractions,” the group said. “We must continue to upgrade and enhance cruise tourism facilities, and consider how new technologies can be implemented to improve passenger experience and maintain our competitive position without negatively affecting the lives of Caymanians and residents, or the quality experience of our stayover guests, who contribute 80 percent of tourism revenue into the Cayman economy.”