Kirkconnell: Caribbean tourism ‘stronger together’

During the Caribbean Travel Marketplace in Nassau, Bahamas, the Cayman Compass caught up with Minister of Tourism Moses Kirkconnell to discuss climate-resilient tourism in the Caribbean region, cruise tourism and the benefits of regional collaboration. Here are excerpts from the discussion.

Minister Moses Kirkconnell at Caribbean Travel Marketplace in Nassau – Photo: Kayla Young

Compass: What is the benefit of attending an event like Caribbean Travel Marketplace?

This conference has two takeaways from it. One is, it’s put on by the [Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association]. So you get a lot of the investors, a lot of the operators. And then it’s also attended by the ministers responsible for tourism from the region itself. Yesterday [21 Jan.], we had the Caribbean Tourism Organization meetings, first meeting of the year, which was extremely well attended. Just about every island in the region was represented.

And it’s a time for sharing best practices, a time for looking at successes. And then you always want to study, what you weren’t successful in and talk about that, and see how you can look at a way forward.

I think that the other thing that’s extremely important is that we understand regionally that we all depend on each other.

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The Caribbean is a huge brand that we need to take advantage of and more advantage. But the point is that if Cayman advertises, Jamaica benefits from it. Jamaica advertises, Saint Lucia benefits from it.

The Cayman Islands booth, left, at Caribbean Travel Marketplace was used as a meeting place for three days to facilitate discussions about local and regional tourism.

Compass: If the port project is delayed or is not able to go through, do you see a path forward to increase cruise tourism in the slow season?

The answer to that is a simple no, because what the partners have said to us, by example, is if you look at Royal, for instance, when they run their Oasis-class vessels in the Western Caribbean, they just pass Cayman and we’ve had, from the chairman to the president, CEO of Royal say, they will not tender their Oasis-class vessels.

We’ve had statements that we’ve put in the newspaper from the senior people, VP and up, from Carnival saying that their large vessels that are coming into the Western route will not be tendered.

So, I think it’s fair and safe for us to say that for us to be able to take advantage of this opportunity, we need cruise berthing. We have a product mix and this should be very simple to understand. We have a product mix that makes 100% of our product that we sell. It’s a lot of different things, but cruise picks up 20 to 25% of that product mix. And we don’t have anything that will attract or bring the type of economic benefit to replace losing 25% of that product mix.

Compass: Cayman Brac recently had a visit from a small cruise ship. Can the island expect more of that?

This year, we have more cruise visits to Cayman Brac than we’ve ever had. We’re very pleased with that. We’re looking at opportunities of how we could improve the facilities there.

And again, I believe that I’m safe in saying that Cayman Brac views it as an opportunity and knows they need that economic benefit and knows they need the jobs that will come out of it.

So, they encourage me. And I can say that, that [Brac] constituents, tell us all the time that they want more economic benefit for Cayman Brac. And that’s one of the ways to get it. So we work on looking at how we can improve the facilities, the docking to bring more of that to Cayman Brac.

Read related story: Post-Dorian Bahamas reexamines climate-resilient tourism

Compass: How do the threats of climate change and hurricanes play into tourism planning for Cayman and how we grow sustainably?

We’re very aware of what the region has faced with the Category 5s that almost started off with Hurricane Ivan in Cayman and moved forward.

We’ve had a lot of discussion at the different meetings this week about the environmental challenges that the region has and the resilience that the region must have.

So, this is a very good venue for regional decision-makers to talk about some of the opportunities.

And, and we in Cayman, we actually have an insurance policy that we pay into that protects a certain percentage of our risk, that we’re able to draw down on, whether it be [for] Paloma in Cayman Brac or Ivan in Grand Cayman. Not every small island nation is that well off and have that kind of wellbeing to fall back on.

So our discussions have been, from a resilience standpoint, what can we do together?

I can tell you that Prime Minister [Roosevelt] Skerrit [of Dominica] made an impassioned speech to the United Nations.

Prime Minister [Mia] Mottley from Barbados has spoke at the United Nations about global warming and what the effects are on the Caribbean region and yesterday we had discussions on that.

We are working with some international groups to drive the conversation forward and be part of regional solutions.

Compass: Does that reality of climate change eliminate any types of tourism projects for Cayman?

The lessons we learnt [from Ivan] were that you can have more codes that will protect your island and make them more resilient from the standpoint of your building codes. You can have more communication availability that moves things quicker. And I’ll give you an example.

One is, if the region is hit by a Category 5 hurricane, and that hits an island in the Eastern Caribbean, every island in the Caribbean is affected because our core market, United States and Canada, doesn’t go to the map and say, “Cayman is here and Jamaica is here and Barbados got hit.” What they say is the Caribbean’s had a Category 5. So, our conversation revolved around marketing to make sure the message gets out, helping your brothers and sisters that have been hit by the Category 5 and then looking at regional ways of how to improve the economic wellbeing….

It’s a conversation that needs to be talked about at a regional level and driven to a global level because the independent countries usually have one economic pillar, and that’s tourism. So, just thinking about what happens with your tourism product when you get hit with a Category 5 makes you realise that certain parts of that product are going to come back quicker – an example being for us in Cayman, when Ivan hit, the first part of our tourism to come back was the cruise business.

The point is that we need … not put all of our eggs in one basket. We have to have the flexibility to protect the people of the country.

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  1. I think the question is why is there a slow cruise season? From what I understand is that vacationers don’t want to come to the hot Caribbean in the summer. For those in North America, there are other local activities in the fair weather. Bigger ships is not an answer. Will the cruise lines guaranty the visitors?

    I get a chuckle out of the continued reference of Oasis ships passing by Cayman. Of course they are passing. They are on an Eastern Caribbean cruise schedule.