Everyone in the Cayman Islands supports tourism. Everyone encourages cruise ship tourism, let’s get that straight.
There are many of us, however, who consider that our current complement of cruise tourists (approximately 1.9 million last year) is too many. Our ideal capacity is likely to be closer to 1.5 million cruise tourists and 500,000 stayover tourists annually.
We already have a healthy stayover and cruise tourism sector on a tiny island with very few natural attractions apart from the clear blue water. Cayman is a much bigger place underwater.
Currently, people who visit come to experience the high quality of the beaches and the shallow reef areas through swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving.
The crown jewel for many is the Stingray City (Sandbar) experience. But on midweek days, your encounter with the rays is affected by the crowds. We are way beyond capacity at this attraction. What will it be like with another 500,000 people visiting annually?
Land-based attractions are limited to the public parts of Seven Mile Beach, the Turtle Centre, Pedro Castle, the Botanic Park, the Crystal Caves and, if you like hiking, the Mastic Trail. More adventurous visitors will venture out to Spotts Beach and East End to try some of the very good diving and restaurants to be experienced there.
Then there is browsing the waterfront, shopping the jewellery stores or making a trip to Camana Bay. Our modern topside infrastructure, including great restaurants, condos and hotels, all add to making the Cayman Islands unique.
By adding so many extra cruise tourists, we risk that reputation.
Where are people going to go? What are they going to do? Take a zip line from the top of Mount Trashmore into the sea at North Sound?
We went to the Barcadere on 30 Sept., to listen to a presentation from Verdant Isle Port Partners (the preferred bidder on the project) along with many invited tour operators.
We were amazed that there was no mention of the impending referendum. They seemed to proceed as if there was no doubt this project was going to happen.
It is claimed that the bigger Oasis class ships cannot stop without a dock and be tendered. This is not true, according to the local tender operation. Right now, 4,400 passengers on a big ship can be offloaded from two doors in two hours. A bigger Oasis-class ship with 6,600 passengers can be offloaded on to tenders through three doors, also in two hours.
Another argument is the passengers are wealthier on the big ships and spend more money ashore. All the money they may theoretically spend is dwarfed by the daily spend of stayover visitors.
Have we looked at how the sheer numbers of cruise ship visitors could affect the spending behaviour of stayover visitors? Will they stay out of the way when 10,000 people per day arrive in George Town?
We should be concentrating on stayover
Back in 2015, the BREA (Business Research and Economic Advisors) report shows the average length of time ashore of four hours for Grand Cayman is 13% lower (and the average spend is 23% lower) than other destinations with a cruise pier.
More recent data show that Grand Cayman is now ranked third, with 5.29 hours (out of 34 destinations) spent ashore, without having a dock. It has been suggested that having a dock will increase that time and spend.
Even if that is true, we have to ask: Given all the other problems highlighted, is it worth it?
Many of us are convinced that we should be concentrating on attracting stayover visitors who spend 10 times more per day than a cruise ship passenger. Investment in more hotels is a much better business proposition. In addition, the government makes more money out of stayover visitors. Since 2009, the head tax for stayovers has gone from $9.2 million to $32.7 million. In the same time, head tax for cruise ship passengers has gone from $9 million to $11.5 million.
The cruise ship companies HAVE to include Grand Cayman on the Western Caribbean itinerary because they will not fill the cabins on the ships otherwise and so will lose money. These companies are not really concerned with our wellbeing as a nation. All the arguments about the benefits of having a dock are distractions. We are already at capacity without a dock and more visitors will irreparably damage what is a unique destination in the Caribbean.
The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is an independent registered non-profit organisation that conducts marine research, education and conservation projects in the Caribbean and Central America.
In full disclosure, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is contracted consultants for Norwegian Cruise Line and perform a variety of educational and marine research projects sponsored in part by NCL.