As the manager of the Cayman Islands’ most luxurious resort, Marc Langevin has a vested interest in the future of the island’s tourism product.
Amid an ongoing debate about tourism growth, the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is keen to see the island retain its reputation as a safe, high-quality destination.
While he sees the advantages of cruise tourism, he has concerns about the potential impact of uncontrolled growth. Langevin spoke to Issues reporter Kayla Young about the debate over stayover versus cruise tourism, overcrowding and why Seven Mile Beach will always be Cayman’s main selling point.
Here is what he had to say:
On cruise versus stayover tourism:
It’s interesting when we talk about cruise ships. It’s complicated. It’s complementary. You cannot say, ‘choose one or the other’.
Because, a lot of our customers, I ask them, is this your first visit to Grand Cayman? Their response quite often is, ‘Oh no, we came here on a cruise ship. We visited the island and we loved it, so we came back.’
I believe cruise ship is a complementary industry by allowing customers to visit. I mean, the Caribbean is very complicated to understand. Every island is so particular and has so many different offerings, that when they go around [the region], people will see what they like and some people will prefer a destination for whatever reason.
Travel agents quite often are using cruise ships to go visit different destinations. And when they go visit different destinations, we have requests to go and visit the resort. They come because they will be sending us customers and they want to meet us, build a relationship with the resort, making sure the product fits the needs of their customers.
The big equation is: How do we coexist and cohabitate? The balance is critical.
On maturing as a destination:
When I came on island 15 years ago, when I was trying to promote the destination, it was hard at the time to explain exactly what was so special about the destination.
We were the first luxury resort. [Cayman] was not as known except for what we heard on TV or from the movie ‘The Firm’. Fifteen years later, I think it is a very different conversation we are having now.
Because the island has established a reputation for sense of well-being, a quality product, quality food, a sense of Caymankind that we always promote. There is no more confusion that we are just a beach.
There is a clear image and style that is attached to the name Cayman Islands.
I think we are in a very different situation. The question is, as we move into the future, how to preserve that. I think that is, for me, the biggest question in that whole referendum issue.
I know there are many people with many different motivations talking about that whole issue. For me, the question is, what is really the overall intent and vision for the island, and can we preserve what has been already established?
On quality versus quantity:
I am hearing different things from different people at different times. Sometimes I’ve heard in the conversation that they were looking at improving the quality of the people coming.
Then I’m hearing this other conversation that they wanted to increase [numbers]. The question is, are we looking for quantity or quality? Then, my logic as a kind of business person, I’m thinking, OK, what is the interest of the cruise ship?
No one gives you money for free. There is a return on your investment. The way I understand it is it’s going to be recovered by cost per passenger.
So if I am looking at a logical point of view, that I made an investment, I would want more passengers and to what extent? Is there a control? Is there a limit?
For me, that is the part that is worrying me the most. What is the control process to limit the growth to something that can be acceptable for the island?
On stayover versus cruise tourism:
The difference in behaviour in a customer on stayover and from a cruise ship is quite different. A stayover customer will use the beach maybe three or four times.
They are not going to the beach every day, to Stingray [City] every day or drive on the road every day. So there is a distribution of the activity, which makes it so there is less pressure on the environment itself.
I know some people are worried about the environmental aspect of the coral. I am talking about the environment of the island – the experience and environment that we are offering to the customers.
I have experienced recently going to Stingray City and I was shocked already, by the way it was mistreated, mismanaged by operators.
There was probably, I believe, disregard for the law because there was loud music. There were people drinking. That, already, was not a good experience. So what happens now if you start to increase that number? How do we control that before our No. 1 attraction disappears?
You can create all the attractions you want on the island and I’m glad there are people who are thinking about that. But the fact is that customers will still want to come first to the beach and then to Stingray. It is the number one attraction. It doesn’t matter what you do.
I see it in my own resort. I also tried to create an attraction with the waterpark, with the golf and the tennis but people still go on the beach.
On mass tourism:
Other islands are known for all-inclusive and they are doing mass tourism because they have room.
You’re talking about Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico. They can do mass volume and they almost do it by default.
Honestly, they almost don’t have a choice. Here, we have created an environment where it’s an amazing platform for luxury business.
Why would we change it? If you’re on 5th Avenue in New York, why would you want to become Times Square? That’s two different types of businesses. They don’t necessarily coexist all the time. It’s a different business.
A customer said, ‘You know, I noticed you don’t have any lock on the outside of your resort.’ And I said, because we don’t need to. At other destinations, you have a fence around the resort, some guards with machine guns, or whatever it is.
Here we don’t. I’m not suggesting we don’t have any issues with security but it is not a necessity.
I think the best thing we can do right now is preserve that way of life. When you start to bring volume, it brings other kinds of issues.