The Cayman Islands, like many countries, is currently facing one of its most difficult financial crises ever. Unfortunately, some of the blame for the severity of this predicament is our own.
We have done little to improve our financial situation, as well as add new sources of revenue over the last 10 years, especially with regard to tourism, one of our most important industries.
We have rested on our laurels, while other countries like Turks & Caicos, as only one example, improved their tourism plant by developing new prestigious five star resorts like Amanyara, Regent Palms, Mandarin Oriental at Dellis Cay, and Grace Bay Club, among others.
They also diversified their reliance on air arrival tourism by building marinas at Leeward, Turtle Cove, Parrot Cay, and Meridian Club, to name a few, and providing them with easy access from the sea. Since, they do not have cruise ship tourism, a decision was made to add marinas and attract private boating and yachting tourism. This move added another source of revenue and diversified their tourism base.
The crisis that we are experiencing in the Cayman Islands is a wake-up call for all of us, especially our tourism industry. We are at an inflection point. We have an opportunity, if we act now and are decisive, to undo the lack of action from the past, so we can catch up and eventually pass our competition. However, it will require some bold steps and immediate action.
One of these bold moves is to finally attract the multi-billion dollar sailing and yachting tourism industry to our shores. There are approximately 125,000 boats registered in South Florida alone, not to mention the megayachts and superyachts. The Ft. Lauderdale boat show features US$1.6 billion in boats, yachts, and equipment every year. Of the 1,400 megayachts that visit South Florida in a year, they an economic impact of almost US$400,000 per visit – huge revenue from this segment of the tourism industry!
These boats, yachts, and sailboats now pass by us because we have done nothing to attract them or provide good access to our marinas and safe harbour. This would not only be another important source of tourism revenue, it would also diversify our tourism base and reliance on cruise ships and air arrivals. These yachting visitors would also buy homes, land, and condominiums, providing new revenue sources to government from duties and fees on gas, food and beverages, supplies, accommodations, real estate, and investment.
So why have we done nothing about this? It is a sensitive topic because it involves dredging in the North Sound. Having said that, there has been dredging in the North Sound for over 30 years, but for some reason, government has resisted linking up all the individual, piece meal, dredged areas around developments with a main channel. This could access offshore from around Barkers and go all the way along the edge of the North Sound.
We have these incredible developments being built – the Ritz-Carlton’s Dragon Bay, Camana Bay, Grand Habour, George Town Baccadere – yet there is a disconnect because the only access is local. We are completely missing a very lucrative market of tourism and investment, whose spending could provide a large economic impact that would ripple across our economy.
We must protect the economic base that the North Sound provides for snorkeling trips to the Sand Bar and Stingray City. There is no doubt about that. However, there must be a way, as well as the technology available, to dredge a deep water channel that will finally open up the developments along the North Sound to overseas boating and yachting tourism.
Once this channel is dredged, there should be no more need for any dredging in the North Sound. It would only be a matter of any new developments connecting to this channel and not having to dredge into the North Sound. The fill from the dredging could be sold by government to help recover costs. Over the long term, the tourism dollars that would come from this new segment of tourism would more than pay for the costs, many times over and provide new jobs, businesses, and investment.
Everyone is looking at ways to improve our current economic position. On the surface, it would appear that, subject to having a marine engineering company certify that a deep channel could be properly dredged without a negative impact to our North Sound snorkeling locations, this would be a reliable and clean, long term, new source of revenue for the Cayman Islands.