(CNS): Speaking to an audience of industry stakeholders who sell the Cayman Islands tourism brand around the world on Tuesday, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell promoted the destination’s pristine underwater experience, but avoided mentioning the planned destruction of it with the proposed cruise project. Kirkconnell only referred to the controversial cruise port and cargo project in passing at the 2018 Tourism Conference and instead focused on the success of overnight tourism, noting the importance of diving and the marine environment for attracting those guests.
Kirkconnell said that Cayman’s “incredible underwater experience” was one of the best in the world, as he spoke about the unique “reefs, wrecks and plunging coral walls” that allow visitors a different dive attraction every day of their stay.
But the tourism minister made no mention of the significant loss and damage to the reefs that the cruise berthing project will have on George Town Harbour if it goes ahead. The minister did not discuss the damage it will bring to several of the wrecks he spoke about or some of the Cayman Islands’ other unique dive sites.
The comments made it clear, however, that the minister does recognise the significance of the marine habitat to the overnight tourism product that the event was showcasing.
The minister was also keen to promote the development taking place in the accommodation sector that will help expand the existing room stock, which already stands at more than 6,520.
The minister said that Cayman’s room stock is expected to grow some 20% over the next two years. But that figure is dependent on the completion of projects that may never actually come to fruition, such as the long promised but never started Beach Bay resort and the more recent Pageant Beach hotel in George Town, the start date for which appears to have been delayed again.
Other projects such as the NCB boutique hotel in George Town and Dart’s renovation of the Beach Suites on seven Mile Beach are now underway.
But Kirkconnell also noted the increase in B&B accommodation, which is where Cayman appears to be experiencing significant growth. The partnership with Airbnb and the increase in the popularity of other online accommodation platforms has seen a lot more local people renting out rooms to guests, providing another way of increasing room stock that offers not only a more authentic experience but a direct benefit to Caymanians.
The stakeholders at the event also heard that 2018 is proving to be another great year for overnight visitors to Cayman, up on last year’s record-breaking 12 months. By the end of August overnight guest numbers were up more than 13% on 2017, setting 2018 on track to exceed the 418,000 people last year, which was the first time the islands had ever seen more than 400,000 guests visit in one year.
Tourism Director Rosa Harris gave an overview of the marketing strategies that have driven the increase in visitor numbers. But she also revealed how much overnight guests contribute to government coffers when she revealed that so far this budget year, her department has already collected more than $4 million over budget expectations in accommodation licences and fees.