I’ve been hesitant to wade into the debate around the new cruise port and cargo facility but a recent letter in your paper has compelled me to enter the fray. Not as an adversary either, for I have been absorbing the pros and cons from the side lines of the debate for months now and gaining a clearer understanding.
The writer said three things that are true: tourism is vibrant; cruise tendering has been vital to the growth of our cruise industry; and we are a very popular destination for cruisers.
I think the local tourist trade is vibrant for many reasons: a great location in the northwest Caribbean, beautiful natural environment, ideal weather conditions, and decent, friendly people who do not harass or intimidate our visitors and low crime.
However, I believe the main reason is that, whilst there is some government oversight, the local tourism industry regulates itself and behaves accordingly, with several associations and co-ops to guide the members. Our tour operators and hospitality workers understand that visitors become our friends and return to visit us as stayover tourists IF their experience as a cruise passenger has been a pleasant one. Cruise passengers are their bread and butter!
The writer also said that tendering is a successful way to transfer guests from ship-to-shore. Yes, this practice is the norm in Cayman but there are significantly more ships visiting now and many more visitors each year than in the past. As I understand it, the fees/duties paid per head for cruise visitors includes a portion for tendering, which is paid to a privately-owned company. When the piers are built, instead of paying that company, those fees will pay for the piers instead. At the end of 25 years, the country will own a modern facility that belongs to the people of Cayman. For the past ‘forty-leventeen’ years the tender company has received fees for their service, and the country doesn’t even own the boats!
As far as overall costs, the writer said “a portion of the government head tax and the tender fee will be used” to repay the consortium. True, but government won’t lose income. Even though they will be giving up a small amount of the head tax they currently receive, the volume will more than make up for it. Government will receive more, not less, so we will not be paying for the piers.
The writer says, “there is no statistical data showing that passengers overwhelmingly do not want to take your tender ferries”. Actually, there is data that shows that many passengers would prefer not to take the tenders but instead walk down the gangway and into town when they are ready, and not be held ransom to the tender schedule.
The tender schedule is the main reason that tourists in George Town have to be herded onto the boats within a short period, which creates the bottlenecks of crowds coming ashore and going back onto the ships. Berthing would relieve the congestion and “rush hour” of thousands of people coming ashore and going back to the ships at the same time.
The fact that the Meraviglia has chosen to use tenders is irrelevant. That’s their choice to make. Royal Caribbean and Carnival have made their choice not to tender, and they bring more passengers to Cayman than all the other cruise lines put together. The impact of the Meraviglia not coming here, if it came to that, would be a drop in the bucket compared to Royal and Carnival passing our islands by.
Now the third point: we ARE “a very popular destination for cruisers”. We are not only building this docking facility for them, but for the wider, positive dividends that tourism pays into thousands of local homes and families. Cruise visits are a major determining factor for those people who fly back here for extended stays to rent our hotel and condo rooms, cars, and invest in property here.
From what I understand about “upland-development” with the new port, this does not mean there won’t be new services and goods offered to visitors. It simply means that no third party, including the cruise lines and consortium, will own or operate any of the shops in the cruise terminal or in town. Residents/owners of George Town property will continue to have control and power to build and offer their services to visitors.
I love the Cayman Islands, and I am equally concerned that this major project is built for me and my family while preserving our beautiful way of life and keeping the marine life intact. Incidentally, our marine environment has survived other phases of port development, occasional hurricanes, as well as countless Nor’westers.
Negative speculation does not accomplish anything. Only conscious, responsible and accountable action will take us forward. I am excited about this project and look forward to seeing the final plans for it. Nothing is built yet so there is still time to give opinions that will help keep everyone accountable to the wider public, the ultimate beneficiaries of this development.
– Jaime A. Ebanks