Once Cayman’s borders reopen, the islands are unlikely to welcome back the large numbers of cruise tourists seen in recent years, and if cruise ships do return, numbers are likely to be capped, Premier Alden McLaughlin stated on Tuesday.
He said his government had decided not to proceed with the controversial cruise berthing facility proposed for George Town, and building such berths would not be part of the “coalition manifesto” for the upcoming election.
He insisted that he was not suggesting that Cayman entirely abandon cruise tourism, “but we cap the numbers so that our current system can accommodate them in a better way and the experience for those who do visit can be better”.
The premier added that Cayman had learned to survive without cruise tourism over the past year and it was time to look at diversifying the industry, such as embracing medical tourism. He was speaking at a briefing Tuesday to announce the location of a new Aster Cayman Medcity hospital in West Bay. Last week, the premier also announced the expansion of Health City into Camana Bay, where it will build a $100 million, 70-bed hospital.
He said the government had received a “clear signal” from the business community and local people that they did not want “to go back to the large number of visitors” that Cayman had played host to in recent years. In 2019, more than 1.83 million cruise ship passengers visited Grand Cayman.
Cayman banned cruise ships from landing here in March last year in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The premier had been a staunch advocate for the construction of a cruise and cargo berthing facility in George Town before that plan was stalled by the Cruise Port Referendum Cayman group collecting enough petition signatures to prompt a people-initiated referendum into whether the project should go ahead. In April last year, as the government grappled with lockdowns, curfews and other COVID-19 suppression measures, McLaughlin said there were no plans to hold a referendum and the project was effectively dead as far as his administration was concerned.
Speaking on Tuesday, the premier said refusing to go back to huge numbers of cruise visitors was “probably the only logical position that any government can come to because, if we are not going to go ahead with the construction of a cruise berthing facility, we simply cannot accommodate the number of visitors that we previously had in a way that the cruise companies are willing to accept”.
Representatives of the cruise ship industry over the years have repeatedly indicated that unless Cayman builds a cruise dock big enough to handle mega cruise ships, some cruise companies would stop coming to Grand Cayman.
“We certainly have taken the decision that we are not proceeding with a cruise berthing facility as part of our coalition manifesto for the upcoming elections, and so therefore we will have no mandate to do so,” McLaughlin said.
He added, “What I foresee, if we retain the government, is less focus on growing cruise tourism … we can survive without the large numbers and … we need more balance and we need to not overwhelm the systems that we have by sheer volume of people.”
He acknowledged that a significant number of workers had become unemployed or underemployed because of the collapse of the tourism industry and said new ways needed to be found to give them an opportunity to make a living.