Visitor numbers reach historic highs

| 23/01/2020 | 48 Comments
Cayman News Service
Passengers in the departure lounge at the Owen Roberts International Airport

(CNS): The Cayman Islands welcomed 502,739 overnight guests last year, breaking the half a million milestone for the first time, making this an historic high for the sector. According to the Department of Tourism, the year’s total figure was an 8.6% increase on 2018, almost 40,000 more visitors and the tenth consecutive year of growth for stay-over tourism. Meanwhile, despite government’s claim of potential cruise decline without berthing facilities, passenger numbers fell only slightly from 2018 arrivals, which was a record breaking year for cruise tourism, making 2019 the second best year at the port in a decade.

Ending the decade with record-breaking overnight arrivals was due to a combination of airlift, increased room stock and successful marketing, officials said.

A key driver of the growth, however, is not without its controversies as the increase in home-share options marketed through online platforms such as Airbnb has helped tourism growth but also fuelled inflation and added to the chronic problems relating to affordable rental accommodation for Cayman’s transient workforce.

Nevertheless, the increase in available rooms has allowed tourism businesses to benefit, and Tourism Director Rosa Harris said it had helped bring more Caymanians into the sector.

“It is a great sense of accomplishment that the Department of Tourism is able to help the general public understand that tourism involves everyone,” she said.”We remain committed to embracing travel trends early and ensuring that the Cayman Islands stay ahead of the curve when it comes to giving our visitors the idyllic dream sun, sand and sea vacation.”

Airlift, too, has been critical to the growth. Although Cayman Airways has struggled to maintain its schedule, with two brand new Max 8 aircraft on the ground for the best part of the year, the national flag carrier and other airlines have kept the people coming.

Harris said the DoT team had put significant effort into developing strong aviation partnership to bring the guests. “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,” she added.

During 2019 a number of new airlines began flying here, new gateways opened up and existing partners added flights. The United States remains the most important country for the bulk of visitors, which increased by over 33,000 guests in 2019. But visitor numbers from Canada and the United Kingdom also grew, resulting in the historic figures.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said it had been government’s intention to improve the lives of Caymanian by providing opportunities in the tourism sector.

“We know that tourism provides many opportunities — from entrepreneurship to sharing of our culture — that empower our people to thrive professionally and personally. This has been our focus for the past five years and will continue to be a top priority for us going forward,” he said. He claimed the ministry had challenged the DoT and stakeholders to reach new markets and create growth in tourism.

“The numbers speak for themselves — over 502,000 people chose our home, a humble three island trio with so much to offer — to make their dreams a reality by coming to the Cayman Islands. The Department of Tourism rose to that challenge through a variety of tactical and creative means, and we all should be proud of this amazing outcome.”

Kirkconnell said tourism is a powerful business and economic driver. “We are responsible to the people of the Cayman Islands to ensure that we are laser focused in creating areas of economic development through the diverse field of travel and tourism,” he said. 

“This is not done haphazardly; research, innovation and a mindset to create strategy based on fearless creativity all played a role in this success. Add to this is our longstanding commitment to infusing a tourism focused curriculum in our schools from a young age to training future generations who can and will benefit from this career field in the years to come.”

Harris said the department would continue to plan for the future and drive the record-breaking successes for the Cayman Islands in the new decade ahead.

Neither the minister nor the director mentioned cruise tourism and the many controversies surrounding this element of Cayman’s tourism product. In addition to the contentious plans for a berthing facility, there is a growing question mark worldwide around the sustainability in general of cruise tourism and its negative impact on destinations and their environments beginning to outweigh economic benefit.

Last year’s cruise figures have fallen a little short on 2018, which was a record-breaking year for cruise. Despite the government’s increasing messages of doom and gloom, as it tries to justify the controversial cruise berthing project, more than 1.83 million passengers visited Cayman last year. That equates to the second best year since 2010 and around 90,000 people less that the previous 12 months.

But the increase of almost 40,000 overnight guest easily outweighed that drop in cruise passengers, given that stay-over visitors spend almost four times more than cruisers.

The arrival numbers for cruise passengers in December were also the second best in history, again undermining government’s claims of terminal decline for that side of Cayman’s tourism product.

For more information and detailed arrival statistics, visit the DoT website and see the cruise numbers on the port website here.

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Category: Business, Tourism

Comments (48)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The airport should have been built in the Central Mangrove. The whole problem is we not going to save little baby fish four miles from the sea. The water is fresh not salt. The bird life is very low and the crocodile went extinct. We need to save the mangrove 2000 feet from the sea, the rest can be used for development. The next airport will need two runways and if we build in the center of the country we can “wheel spoke” it out to Northside,East End, Frank Sound, Breakers, Bodden Town, Savannah and then to George Town. It is time to decentralize the country. We cannot keep putting everything on 1 mile by 7 miles and think we ain’t going to run out of space.

  2. Anonymous says:

    On the surface-fantastic news.

    Now let see how it affects 60,000 people who LIVE here, for whom Grand Cayman is home. Keep in mind the home is a tiny rock surrounded by sea.

    A human body was designed to withstand a lot. Bacteria, viruses, poisons, broken bones, inflammation etc. – it knows how to heal itself, but ONLY in health promoting environment.

    What does that mean? It means that for recuperation a human body needs proper rest and at least 7 hours of uninterrupted night sleep with sleep index of at least85%. It also means that a person must spend as much time as he can in Nature, be it a beach, mountains, park or river or simply a quiet backyard.
    Natural light, sun, bare feet on the ground, fresh air during day time, even if for few minutes/an hour, and 7 hours of sleep in total natural darkness, free of artificial light and noise. On weekends, stress free recreation, social, face to face, interaction with friends and family preferably in Nature.

    Now lets get back to living in Grand Cayman. 500k of stay over visitors and 60k residents. How the former affect living environment of the latter? Visitor outnumber residents 10:1 ( Let forget about cruise ships crowds for now).
    Being a tourist destination, rather than a sleeping village, Grand Cayman is tourism oriented, nearly everything that being done on the tiny rock is to entertain and please visitors, increase their numbers, therefore artificial light during night time, noise at all times, even on weekends, wi-fi (artificial electromagnetic pollution), overcrowded beaches and roads, are seen as normal part of any tourism destination, including Cayman. But the visitors come and go, leaving piles of garbage behind (figuratively speaking-it all ends up in the Dump), and residents stay and must survive in such environment.

    The fact that people actually LIVE HERE is totally and utterly disregarded (Tautology I know but I want to emphasize. ) They must adapt one would say, or leave, some smart ass would add. But it is their home, where should they go? So they try to sleep under artificial lights and noise, try to find a spot to put a blanket on “public” beach to soak up some sun and breathe sea air, they try to remain calm on the roads, try to endure blinding roadside displays and unhealthy street lights, pinch their noses near the Dump and there is no escape from artificial EMF. And that is each and every day and night. After all, tourism is thriving, money are flowing into government’ coffers, suck it up, what else one needs…..but but but what about people who live here 24x7x365? What about them? They are just a minor inconvenience for vacationing crowds.

    As I said a human body can recover from many insults, unless insults are coming from artificial environment they are forced to live in, and those insults have no breaks. Even the most robust, genetically blessed bodies start breaking. diabetes, Hypertension, Cancer, neurological diseases skyrocketed, nearly all children have ADD, and yet, nobody connects the dots.

    Nobody ever raised the main question: What are we doing to the people of the Cayman Islands? What is the correct word that describes deliberate (or negligent) annihilation of the large group of people residing on the rock called Grand Cayman? When all free spaces are paved, “enhanced”, and developed what is going to happen to physical and mental health of the Cayman Islands residents? They already feel like hostages of Cayman tourism.

    With that in mind do you truly believe that 500k visitors is good news? That you need more and you need port? That you need to destroy Smith Cove?

    By the way, how many are aware that January 25 is an international 5G awareness day?

  3. Anonymous says:

    This only goes to prove that we need to spend more money doing our airport right.

    We should have spent the money building an airport that could eventually handle jetways even if we couldn’t afford them. (which in my opinion was a big fat lie). The new airport building has already outgrown itself and is not fir for purpose on our busiest day, in fact it is a total emabarrasment.

    The last time I flew into the airport my flight circledfor at least 20 minutes then when we got on the ground we kept circling inside the ramp and then back out on the runway. This probably lasted another 10- 15 minutes. Everybody clapped when the pilot told us that we would finally have a gate.

    If this wasn’t embarrassment enough when we got off the plane the line for immigration was completely full. Luckily, for me being Caymanian my line was easy but I felt bad for those people on my flight particularly if any were first time visitors.

    Build a taxiway, lengthen the runway, start planning another floor to add jetways and for Gods sake forget about the damn cruise port. We do not need anymore cruise ship passengers than we are getting now..

  4. Say it like it is says:

    I am getting fed up with Moses and Rosa claiming all the credit for the increased stayover numbers. Never once have they mentioned the catastrophic hurricane damage suffered by many of our Caribbean competitors last year. If they escape damage this year let’s see what our 2020 arrivals are.

    • Anonymous says:

      Say it like it is: You are not saying it like it is at all. In other words you lied whether in error or intentionally I don’t know, but on numerous occasions during the past two years we were told that the hurricanes hitting the eastern Caribbean were contributing to our increase in tourists.In fact it was used to bolster the stated need for the CBF. Just saying

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yeah now lets go and ruin it for the stay over visitors by spending half a billion dollars on a cruise ship port! Frigging greed and ignorance is a dangerous combination!!

    • Anonymous says:

      World Class Civil Service, World Class Government the envy of the world. I am so proud to be a Caymanian and a Civil Servant.

      Big thanks to out private sector partners as well. Together we are unmatched.

      • Anonymous says:

        You a funny guy 4:43.

      • Anonymous says:


      • Anonymous says:

        Sarcasm much?

      • Anonymous says:

        4.43pm You are absolutely right. In fact envy is the reason for the large number of thumbs down on your comment. Some come here from colder climes and love the place and weather but can’t the fact that those pesky locals control their fate. It burns them up with envy and that why they want to run for office and have all of them be able to vote.

  6. Anonymous says:

    All the more reason to build the Port first and expand ORIA second. The expanded Port would help with capacity issues in processing tourists. Who knows, maybe there is a market for stay over tourists coming over by boat? But again, Port first and ORIA second.

    • Anonymous says:

      3:20 I don’t detect any joined up logic in that comment at all. I’d stop smoking whatever is you’re on.

      • Anonymous says:

        3:20 is being sarcastic😂😂😂😂

        Just chill 3:30 before you bust an artery!

        • Anonymous says:

          Thank you 5:19! I really thought the sarcasm was obvious? Maybe not? I mean stay over tourists by boat? This ain’t the 1920’s bobo.

    • Anonymous says:

      🎵 Now the drugs don’t work. They just make you worse..🎵🎵
      The Verve ©️

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m a young professional Caymanian paying $1000+ to rent a one bedroom. I had no silver spoon nor did my parents give me a lumpsum/trust when I graduated high school or university.

    Saving for my own property is hard, and now I have to pay $350 more rent than I did two years ago to the landlord or they won’t renew me cause she wants to convert it an Airbnb..

    Moratorium on Airbnb’s when??? Idk how people survive on minimum wage.

    • Anonymous says:

      While I have sympathy with you 2:16, many Caymanians need to rent out one bedroom in their houses simply to enable them to pay their big mortgages which are so high because of the high cost of houses on Grand Cayman.

      Without Airbnb many Caymanians would not be able to own a condo / house.

      • Pastor Alfredo says:

        At the risk of stating the obvious, the houses and condos are more expensive than they’ve ever been because of Airbnb.

        “Without Airbnb many caymanians wouldn’t be able to own a condo/house”. Seriously? How did you all manage prior to 2013 before Airbnb? Presumbaly by renting that bedroom out to a young caymanian or expat, rather than an Airbnb customer? Problem is, as anyone with a couple brain cells to rub together can see, that the Airbnb customer will pay more per night than a young caymanian or expat will pay to rent the same room. So now you can make more money on your room than you could before. That means your house is worth more than it was before to an investor who will pay a higher purchase price to buy the increased future cashflow from your Airbnb customers. Maybe not your individual house, but certainly any other similar houses that come up for sale.

        Problem is, everyone has figured this out. So even if you’re spare bedroom isn’t on Airbnb you can bet your bottom dollar that whoever is looking to buy your house is doing the math. 3 rooms times $100 a night = $300 a night. Probably have an Airbnb customer in one of the rooms 50% of the time = $55,000 a year income. I’d need to put $2,000,000 into a bond to get that kind of income. Which is why the price of a house or condo has skyrocketed. People with more money than you are just buying the Airbnb cash flows because the returns (at the moment) are free money compared to the upfront purchase price of the asset. Slowly this feeds into the market and acquisition prices normalise towards what an investor is willing to pay for the risk involved.

        That’s why one bedroom apartments that were $250k on seven mile beach just five years ago are now $750k. The apartment hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that everyone has realised that you can get $5,000 a month from Airbnb instead of renting it to a singleton for $1,500 a month. The cashflow has tripled and so has the value of the asset.

        Pastor Alfredo

        • Anonymous says:

          Renters just need to forget about living in the Seven Mile Beach Corridor and look at renting in West Bay and George Town. The Seven Mile Beach is a tourist zone.

        • Anonymous says:

          If they changed the zoning in downtown George Town from commercial / office to mixed residential there would be more places available to rent.

        • Anonymous says:

          The answer is simple Pastor Alfredo, don’t rent on Seven Mile Beach where rents are the highest.

        • Anonymous says:

          The Cayman Islands Government has totally abandoned Seven Mile Beach to tourism. One needs to understand that fact.

    • Anonymous says:

      I expect your place isn’t the target of the AirBnb craze….

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m with you on this one. As a no silver spoon young Caymanian my rent just jumped from $1500 to $2200 per month. Needless to say, I had to bail, but still got a lesser apartment for more money.

    • Anonymous says:

      You are lucky to find a place for $1k. I have resorted to renting a room from a friend because on my salary most of it would go straight to rent.

      • Anonymous says:

        Many, many people have had to rentshare for decades, if not centuries. I did for a number of years to get established. It takes time to climb the wealth ladder if you are not born to it. Just make sure you are not driving around in your net worth.

        The scenario painted by Pastor Alfredo will pass at some point when no one wants to come and rent here. Supply and demand comes and goes.

        • Anonymous says:

          With the CIG goal of 100,000 plus people for this island afraid demand will be high the rest of our lifetimes. However, a massive hurricane could hit and then we will have a serious market correction.

  8. Anonymous says:

    While improving our tourism product, so as to enhance visitors’ experiences and thus increase visitors has been a priority of every CIG since the 1960s but this Government in particular seem satisfied with “let’s cram in as many as we can and boast about it every month!”

    I was told by an Immigration Officer that last Saturday at ORIA was outrageous!

  9. Anonymous says:

    It’s worth taking a detailed look at these stats –

    That’s not all good news because it’s showing a dependency on one market – the USA. The UK, Europe and Canada, who all send millions of tourists to neighbouring destinations like Cuba and Jamaica, hardly figure in the stats – their arrival figures have virtually flat-lined. The figures also don’t tell us how many arrivals from the USA are following the old tried and trusted route through ORIA round travel restrictions to Cuba.

    I wouldn’t be breaking out the champagne just yet.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes!! The dollar exchange for Canadians is WAY TOO Much. We cannot afford Cayman, at all, anymore. It’s just over 50% tacked onto everything we buy in Cayman. It’s just not feasible.

      Plus, Cayman is becoming a little Miami with concrete and traffic jams everywhere. No thanks. We work way too hard for our after tax dollars to waste in Cayman. Much better bang for our buck in so many other destinations.

      Au revoir, Cayman! You used to be so pristine and special.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you seen how expensive it is to get here on a crappy 30 year old BA plane? Are there any direct flights from Europe? That’s why.

    • Anonymous says:

      Jamaica is also dependent on the US. Cuba hardly counts.

      • Anonymous says:

        Jamaica has many direct flights from Germany, Netherlands and Italy during the high tourist season.

      • Anonymous says:

        I was recently on holiday in the Montego Bay Area. I was impressed with all the Germans, Italians and other non U.K. tourists on island. I understand they came on direct flights to Jamaica from Western Europe.

  10. Anonymous says:

    And, despite Trump’s travel restrictions, Cuba passed the 5 million tourists mark in 2019 – up by about 7.5% over 2018. In Jamaica they’ve been reporting monthly increases of up to 15% and right now the destinations that were closed while hurricane damage was being repaired are coming back online.

    The DOT figures quoting are impressive, you can’t detract from that, but at the same time they’re confusing. If this is a tourism boom why were there so many hotel specials in 2019? This wasn’t just on the comparison sites but also on the hotel’s own websites.

    One reason might be the number of properties that are being bought as holiday rentals now. Someone I know had friends over for the holidays and they arranged accommodation through a kind of local backdoor version of Airbnb – the property is owned by someone in the USA, it is unregistered and unregulated but you can rent it and for a family it’s heck of lot cheaper than a hotel.

    Be interesting to see how 2020 works out.

    • Aubrey Stillwell says:

      12:56 – what is the website?

      • Anonymous says:

        1:10 Not everything is on the internet and, as far as I can see, it doesn’t work that way. One couple I met last year got the details from their local dive shop in the USA, the place they stay in is owned by someone who works there. Anyway this is nothing new. Back in 2006 my ex was a key holder for two condos being used like this.

    • Anonymous says:

      12.56 That con game has been going on for ages..they build or buy a home then rent to people they know passing them as family and avoiding the tourist room tax. ( Not sure if this loop hole has been tightened )

  11. Concerned diver says:

    Beware of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Over tourism is on the horizon. At what point do we say “enough” or do we just continue to collect the mighty $? I hope we consider the experience of our end users for the sake of all our dear Islands.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Dump cruise pier and focus on other infrastructure. I arrived back into GCM on AA last Saturday at 2:30 pm and we waited for 45 mins on the ground for a gate to open. We literally drove around in circles as other flights arrived and departed. The arrival hall was completely packed. I could only imagine the impression this makes on first time visitors. We spent all that money on an airport that is woefully inadequate.

    • Anonymous says:

      We made the mistake years ago not going with the larger Canadian airport proposal like Bermuda did. What we have now is a band aid short term solution to our airport problems. We did not spend as much on our airport as the Bermudans, but in the end the cost will be the same when we start the next stage of our airport expansion.

      Our airport on weekends is a mess whether one comes in or goes out.

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