Cayman homesharing market doubled in past year

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell told homeshare hosts they were ambassadors for Cayman, when he addressed the Homeshare Summit Wednesday at Margaritaville Resort. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Homesharing is expanding in Cayman.

Over the past year, bookings through platforms such as Airbnb have increased 100%, said Rosa Harris, director of tourism for the islands.

“We’ve seen excellent growth,” Harris told a crowd of about 75 people at the Department of Tourism’s Homesharing Summit on Wednesday at Margaritaville Resort, “which tells us that even more interest is there and we want that to continue.”

The day-long conference was designed to provide information to those operating on the homeshare market in Cayman, whether through Airbnb, some other room sharing platform, or via traditional short-term rental.

It was also an opportunity for those hosts to connect with others in the industry, as well as companies tailoring their businesses to serve that section of the tourism market – including boutique food companies, tour-oriented outfits and a business that readies properties for rental.

Oneisha Richards is deputy director of international marketing and promotions for the Department of Tourism. She said the department has done similar summits in the past for hotel operators and the condominium rental community. This was the first for homesharing, which now handles as much as 60% of tourists staying overnight in Cayman.

Richards said it’s important for people running homeshare businesses to know the regulations and how to meet them.

“We feel strongly about educating about what we do,” Richards said. “We also wanted to show the opportunities for people in homesharing to get better at what they do. It’s a new industry for Cayman.”

Pamela Hazelwood was among the 52 registered homeshare hosts at the summit. She operated an Airbnb rental in Vancouver, Canada, before coming to Cayman in January. Initially, she rented out a room in her apartment, but this month she began renting the entire apartment.

She said she was hoping to learn some things that would improve the experience of her guests.

“The more information I can get my hands on, the better,” Hazelwood said. “I like to get involved in the community.”

By doing so, she said, she can better direct her guests.

“A lot of younger visitors come here with no agenda,” she said. “They really rely on the host. I feel you actually create friendships.”

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said homesharing allows for an old-school approach to dealing with tourists.

“The Cayman person who has an apartment to rent gets to know the person coming here, and that’s the way Cayman tourism was founded,” Kirkconnell said. Homesharing hosts, he added, “really become the ambassadors for the country. Our job is to facilitate this.”

Part of the ministry’s job is also to help find the correct balance between increasing the number of homeshare beds and the pressure that puts on the permanent home market. Kirkconnell acknowledged that the boom in the homeshare business has made it more difficult for Cayman residents to find apartments, and has driven rental prices higher.

“Right now, the hardest thing to find in Cayman is an apartment,” he said. “In the short term, it is a real concern.”

He said he’s hoping that developers recognise this and will provide more long-term housing.

“There’s a balance that needs to be struck,” he said.

Harris said there were 760 Airbnb listings for the Cayman Islands in January, out of nearly 7,000 available rooms for tourists. She said that number is likely to increase.

“Think about all of the construction in George Town and Bodden Town,” she said. “We expect a portion of those developments to enter the homeshare market.”

She said homeshare is largely responsible for the increase in overnight stays by tourists in the past three years. The Kimpton Seafire resort, which opened in November 2016, was the last major hotel addition to the island. Since then, nearly 1,000 additional rooms have been added to the market.

“That growth,” she said, “was apartments, condos and guesthouses. This community is one we know is growing in Cayman.”