The Cayman Islands enjoys a vibrant tourist trade. It is the second most popular cruise ship destination in the Western Caribbean, with just under 2 million cruise ship passengers expected in 2019.
There have been increasing negative comments directed towards tender company Caribbean Marine Services (CMS) and its affiliated companies. This saddens me as, simply put, if it was not for the tender company, we would not have the cruise ship industry we have today.
CMS has brought cruise passengers to the island commercially as a locally owned company since 1976 and is the backbone of our cruise tourism product. As a country we have a lot to be thankful to them for.
Every cruise guest that lands in Grand Cayman today does so at no cost to the public purse or liability to government, the Port Authority or the country. In addition, the landing fee they pay goes to government as income and to CMS to cover the cost of their tender journey.
At the moment, any profits made by CMS are invested back into Cayman. CMS and its affiliated companies employ a large local workforce and rely on local businesses for their operations, maintenance, supplies, banking, insurance and legal services, thus supporting further the local economy. If the piers go ahead, this will all be lost and any revenue will flow instead to the cruise lines, who will not be providing any of these benefits – this is a huge consideration.
Though it is true to say that the project is 100% financed by the consortium, this only means that they put the money up front; it will then have to be repaid. A proportion of the government head tax and the tender fee will be used to do this, so income lost to government and the tender company. Make no mistake, we will be paying for this cruise port.
Cayman is considered to provide a world-class tender service with access for all passengers, including the elderly and disabled. There is no statistical data showing that passengers overwhelmingly do not want to take our tender ferries.
The fact is the cruise companies have been pushing government for years to build a port for their largest ships. The more people they can pack on to Grand Cayman, one of the most popular and safest Caribbean locations, the more money they make. They have no interest in the effects this huge concrete construction will have on our historical harbour, it is simply just headcount for them.
We have a unique tourism product, we stand out from the crowd. Why kill it with overtourism and irreversible damage to our natural environment? To say that without the piers our cruise product will die is untrue. As a tender port, we have seen a steady increase every year. In fact, the Meraviglia, a 5,700 passenger capacity ship (the sixth largest in the world), has been added to our 2019 winter itinerary, and yes it will be tendered!
There is no doubt that we need to upgrade our port – but we can easily do this at a fraction of the cost of building piers. The amount set aside in the finance proposal to upgrade the cargo port is only US$30 million.
What we need is an alternative design with all the positives, e.g., more streamlined terminal processing for more time on shore and better customer distribution. A design with no loss of coral or water clarity, or threat to Seven Mile Beach or our harbourside in-water activities provided by Caymanian-owned businesses. A design that would ensure a better quality of life for all of us and allow for the development of local businesses, rather than mass branding for mass crowds.
The main point to take away is that now, for absolutely no cost and zero liability, the government prints money from the guests coming ashore. The project as proposed, means that we will lose income, lose local businesses, destroy our natural capital, and pay a huge amount to do so. Which leads to the question many ask: “For whom are we doing this?”
The cruise port referendum is about making the right choices for the island. Vote for a sustainable future.
Melanie Harris, Notary Public