Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell made a plug for the cruise berthing and cargo project as he outlined the new Cayman Islands National Tourism Plan 2019-2023 on Friday.
Kirkconnell, speaking in the Legislative Assembly, stressed the necessity of the project, which remains in a state of abeyance as Justice Tim Owen is yet to deliver his decision on a judicial review filed by Cruise Port Referendum Cayman member Shirley Roulstone.
Roulstone challenged the legality of the referendum called by government last December.
Owen is expected to deliver his ruling next week.
Addressing fellow lawmakers, Kirkconnell said the new five-year national tourism plan addresses improved connectivity and tourism-related infrastructure.
He said the plan noted that “building a berthing facility, where cruise ships can dock alongside a pier and passengers can disembark directly to shore, will increase visitor spending and help the Cayman Islands remain competitive as a cruise ship destination”.
Having this additional thrust, he said, will assist the eastern districts.
“The proposed cruise berthing facility could significantly increase visitation to the eastern districts, which in turn would drive a need for additional visitor experiences, bringing a much-needed economic boost to the residents in Bodden Town, East End and North Side,” he said.
He suggested that opponents of the port “claim that government ought to concentrate solely on stayover visitors and allow the cruise tourism industry to diminish over time”.
“Those who support this line of thinking appear to focus on cruise passenger spend rather than cruise passenger value, and erroneously conclude that cruise passengers cannot afford to spend on island and add very little benefit to our tourism industry,” Kirkconnell said.
He pointed to the 2019 bi-annual report on tourism statistics and trends compiled by the Department of Tourism, which stated that 25% of stayover visitors (125,684 individuals) reported an annual household income of between US$100,000 and US$150,000.
“Conversely, the report notes that 38% of cruise ship passengers reported an annual household income of between US$100,000 and US$150,000. This equates to 695,784 individuals. This is particularly relevant because one of the main impediments to developing small and micro businesses in the outer districts is the small size of the market,” he said.
Kirkconnell said the logical response to this is to increase the size of the market by encouraging more visitors to go east and to the Sister Islands.
“Increasing the activity in the eastern districts would also assist in balancing visitation to some of our islands’ more popular attractions, thereby helping to allay environmental and carrying-capacity concerns,” he suggested.
The plan states that the Cayman Islands is one of the top cruise destinations in the Caribbean and one of the last destinations without a pier.
“Without the cruise berthing facilities, the Cayman Islands cannot guarantee a consistent level of cruise arrivals and the ability to create long-term agreements with the main cruise lines,” it stated.
The plan pointed out what it called a “critical issue” of enhanced management of cruise ship arrivals and related visitor services “to maximise the positive impacts on local businesses and, by extension, the local economy and the visitor experience (for both cruise and stayover arrivals), and minimise the negative impacts from traffic, congestion, and strains on local service providers and communities.”
Kirkconnell shared 2019 tourism statistics as he made his case for the tourism plan.
He pointed out that air arrivals reached 502,739. This, he said, represents an 8.6% increase over the same period in 2018 – or 39,738 additional travellers.
“This is the first time in our history that over half a million stayover tourists arrived on our shores in a single year, and represents the 10th consecutive year of annual growth in stayover visitation,” he added.
Kirkconnell said the plan was developed in collaboration with tourism research and destination management consulting firm Solimar International and incorporated feedback received during a public consultation.
Among the initiatives under the five-year plan is addressing the lack of coordination and mechanisms to facilitate coordination of tourism management between government ministries and departments.
It also highlighted that a new policy was established to manage public beach vending, “but the implementation of the new policy has caused confusion and frustration among existing beach vendors. Other public beaches in the east lack visitor services and would greatly benefit from concessions to enhance the visitor experience.”
Some key features of the 2019-2023 Tourism Plan
- Improve inter-governmental tourism management coordination
- Better manage tourism concessions on public beaches
- More private sector involvement in Department of Tourism marketing and planning
- Upgrade Little Cayman Airport
- Increase tourism signage on Grand Cayman
- Deal with traffic and congestion in George Town
- Increase bike lanes
- Visitor management strategy to deal with overcrowding at key attractions