The number of stayover tourists visiting Grand Cayman has almost doubled in the last decade, to reach a record high of more than half-a-million visitors last year.
In 2019, air arrivals reached 502,739, an 8.6% increase on the previous year.
“This is the highest number of stayover visits in recorded history and the tenth consecutive year of annual growth in stayover visitation,” the Department of Tourism said in a press release.
At the start of the decade, in 2010, annual air arrival figures were just over 280,000.
Tourism officials highlighted improved airlift and an increase in room stock both from new hotels and from Airbnb properties among the key drivers of growth.
The strength of the American economy – Cayman’s core tourism market – has also helped the industry. In addition, hurricanes in rival Caribbean jurisdictions have been cited as a factor in Cayman’s tourism growth.
Key developments in 2019 included Cayman Airways opening a new route to Denver and a new Southwest Airlines service to Baltimore.
“Airlift is our oxygen,” said Director of Tourism Rosa Harris.
“My team and I invest significant effort to maintain and grow strong aviation partnerships to ensure that airline capacity and flight frequency throughout the year are maintained and increased wherever possible,” she said. “This ever-increasing ease in accessibility for our visitors, paired with the exceptional Caymankind service and experience unique to our country, enable us to grow the business and set visitation records.”
This strategy is expected to continue in 2020 with a new service to Toronto beginning in February; increased service from London; a new seasonal flight from New York beginning in June; new flights from Houston; and increased service from Newark and Baltimore.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said he was pleased with the growth of the industry and focussed on spreading the economic benefit throughout the community.
“We know that tourism provides many opportunities, from entrepreneurship to sharing of our culture, that empower our people to thrive professionally and personally,” he said. “This has been our focus for the past five years and will continue to be a top priority for us going forward.”
He said part of government’s ongoing strategy was to have a tourism-focussed curriculum in schools to create more career opportunities for Caymanians in that sector.
Hoteliers welcomed the growth in tourism, with many celebrating record years themselves.
Tom Mason, general manager of the Comfort Suites, said it had been the hotel’s best year in two decades of business.
“From the big hotels to the small players who work hard each day, working in the hotels, the restaurants, dive shops and attractions, those driving taxis, directing tourists at the port, we all have a part to play. This is truly the success factor that has driven these incredible tourism arrival numbers,” he said.