Senior government and Verdant Isle officials laid out their case for the cruise and cargo project in the first of a series of public meetings Tuesday.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell and Royal Caribbean chief executive Michael Bayley gave presentations and answered questions from the public during the meeting at Mary Miller Hall in Red Bay.
Around 100 people, including a host of government and Verdant Isle representatives, attended the meeting.
Bayley, who is the lead spokesperson for the Verdant Isle consortium, attempted to assuage concerns that the group’s target of bringing 2.5 million cruise passengers to Cayman every year will have a negative impact on the islands.
He said the majority of these passengers would come in the summer months, which is typically a slower period for the island.
He said the Oasis-class mega ships, which he claimed carry more affluent passengers, currently were in the Caribbean throughout the summer and were simply bypassing Cayman.
He said the daily peak arrivals, somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 cruise tourists on a handful of days every year, would not change.
He added, “There will be more days with volumes closer to that peak, but during the summer months.
“We believe this will be a significant positive for the tourism economy here on the island because you will be receiving many more customers during a low season historically for you.
“Our high season is the summer, from May to October; it is extremely complementary with the Grand Cayman high season which is in the winter.”
McLaughlin acknowledged concerns over tourism. Quoting a slightly smaller annual arrivals figure of 2.3 million, he said the arrivals would be spread out to minimise impact.
“Every place has a carrying capacity,” he said. “None of us are suggesting we can go on growing exponentially, given the finite size of Cayman and the resources and the attractions that we have.
“What we are saying is, if we have a cruise-berthing facility, we can avoid these maximum peaks of 25,000 people when the island is creaking because it is under so much strain and have 2.2 or 2.3 million visitors spread across every month of the year, so the numbers at any given time are significantly below the carrying capacity.”
A promotional video produced by Verdant Isle detailing its plans, including a coral-relocation project and coral-regeneration nursery, were also played at the meeting.
Bayley said the group was concerned about the environmental impact of the project and was working with world-class scientists who had been successful in similar projects around the region.
Government has also produced a glossy 42-page document, which was handed out at the meeting, highlighting its case for the port.
Public officials and Verdant Isle representatives stepped in to answer questions about various aspects of the project during the question-and-answer session. However, some in the audience raised concerns about the absence of any representation from the Department of Environment.
Q&A session: Cruise lines defend reputation
Members of the audience submitted handwritten questions, through a moderator, to be posed to the panel. Below are some of the questions asked, with all of them answered by Michael Bayley.
What will happen if we don’t build a pier?
Michael Bayley: “We can’t bring Oasis-class ships to Cayman today. We have three more Oasis-class ships that will be constructed and a new class of ship called Icon. None of those ships can come to Cayman … There will be no forward momentum.
“If the decision is not to proceed, then basically there will be no growth and we certainly won’t be able to bring these larger ships to Cayman in the summer.”
What guarantee do we have – with your track record – that anything you say to us about the port project is reliable?
“That’s a little unfair. Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival are both public companies trading on the New York Stock Exchange. We have both been in business for 50 years. We are reputable corporations that are very well funded and financed.
“We are both leaders in the space and we have engaged in projects all over Planet Earth and 99.9% of those projects have been delivered in the right way.”
Why is Cayman doing this now when other destinations are limiting cruise tourism?
“If you look at the growth of cruise tourism, it is continuing. There are many destinations around the world engaged in thoughtful master planning that is allowing that growth to continue.
“A small number of destinations, the classic example is Venice, are caught in a long debate about tourism … How do you manage the volume of tourists coming into what is basically a mediaeval village?
“What we are talking about is thoughtful master planning and designing for the future … figuring out how to accommodate the inevitable growth that is coming with tourism.”