The disconnect between to whom the Cayman Islands markets its tourism product and the product the islands actually has on offer was brought into sharp focus at a recent gathering of tourism experts at this year’s Cayman Islands Tourism Exchange, just one of the many issues facing the industry.
Taking place last month at Camana Bay, the series of marketing summits and workshops were designed to get the Islands’ tourism professionals discussing how to improve upon the existing tourism product. During the opening panel discussion on marketing with representatives of Cayman’s private sector industries, the fact that Cayman’s Department of Tourism markets to high earners while the product itself is actually more geared up towards middle income families was discussed.
Trina Christian, executive director with the private sector Cayman Islands Tourism Association gave an outline of the specific demographics of visitors to whom the DOT markets, i.e. those individuals in the 35 to 64 age bracket earning US$150,000 or more annually (and nearer US$300,000 in the high winter season/down to US$100,000 in the low summer season). Such tourists are marketed to via print adverts as well as television adverts and YouTube videos.
Melissa Ladley, PR director with The Ritz-Carlton, spoke on the panel and said that the demographics had been scientifically studied and that their target market was the top 5 per cent of earners who were discreet about their wealth and more discerning than most wealthy people.
Another panellist Steve Broadbelt from Ocean Frontiers and past president of the CITA, said that their studies had found that they catered not just to the top 5 per cent of individuals, although their visitors were certainly well off.
“Come the low season, however, in September and October, visitors are discount shoppers and not just the affluent,” he commented.
Hugh Treadwell, executive vice president of Active Capital Ltd, said his company marketed to an even broader cross section of visitors, categorising them as either cruise ship, short or long stayover visitors, to whom each were marketed in a different way.
“Long term stayover visitors who maybe have a home in Cayman and visit a couple of times a year feel like they live here so our marketing techniques change accordingly,” he explained.
Spencer Antle from Island Companies said that as wholesalers they sold to every top resort in the Caribbean and the reason people came to Cayman was not necessarily because it was upmarket, but because it was clean, safe and the most first world of all the Caribbean destinations.
“It’s not exotic Caribbean like St Barts,” he said, “it’s more like the United States and that’s the appeal of the Cayman Islands.”
Property manager and panellist Max Hillier believed there to be a disconnect between the DoT’s marketing pyramid (i.e. the individuals to whom the Island marketed its tourism product) and the Island’s offerings.
He named the Grand View as one such property offering accommodation for CI$400 a night and said when he worked on the Brac the Divi Tiara Hotel offered rooms for as little as CI$120 a night, which did not seem to tie up with the DoT’s concentration on high earners.
“There is a disconnect to overcome,” he said.
The next big thing
When asked what was Cayman’s next potential market Hillier said that Cayman was missing its biggest opportunity and that was to focus on what the Islands already had and look to see what could be done to improve it.
“We need to re-engage the people who have already been here. We need to bring them back as repeat visitors. This is a critical piece of the puzzle,” he said.
Broadbelt also said the Islands should be making more of what it already had, especially when it came to condo and hotel room stock. He stated that condos generally ran on 40 to 50 per cent occupancy with hotels running at a higher rate of 70 to 80 per cent and felt that getting higher occupancy rates was an easier way to increase visitors than building any new facilities.
Ladley said the Islands were overlooking certain segments of the US pretty much on the Island’s doorstep, namely people living in the state of Texas. She termed this rapidly growing part of the US as “low hanging fruit” that the Islands ought to be tapping into via new airlift schedules. She said Washington, DC, was another potential area of growth in the US for Cayman’s tourism industry.
“We need to take a new look and target areas geographically to align our priorities better,” she stated.
Ladley also called for better cooperation by the private sector to make this happen and spoke about the need for the financial services industry to work better at promoting Cayman as a tourist destination through their clients.
The American Express travel network was a good way for such visitors to be encouraged to visit Cayman but the Islands were not at present part of this network, she said.
Antle pointed out that still very few Americans even knew where the Cayman Islands were on the map, a hurdle that needed to be overcome even before marketing could begin.
Cruise conversion woes
Converting cruise visitors to stayover tourists was another point of discussion, with Treadwell stating that there were at least 1.5 million people who did know where the Cayman islands were, having visited the Islands as cruise tourists.
Audience member Jane van der Bol said cruise visitors felt that during their short stay on the Island they had done everything worth doing and seen everything worth seeing on the Island.
She suggested that cruise visitors be given a straightforward message that if they think they had done it all in the Cayman Islands that they needed to come back and visit again and again.
“They need to know that it cannot be done all in one go,” she said.
Treadwell suggested that not all cruise visitors were alike. Drawing on his 17 years of experience within the industry, he said there were wealthy cruise passengers on board in amongst the average cruise tourists and they were a potential area that Cayman needed to tap into, to win them back as stayover tourists.
“There are always people on board cruise ships who can buy anything they want. The cruise lines themselves have already figured out that there exists a different kind of cruise tourist, those who book suites,” he said.
But to get such visitors on board to visit for a longer period of time Cayman had to up the ante when it came to the initial and last experience that a cruise visitor has of the Islands.
“They have to make their way through the taxi drivers and rogue tour operators before they get to the great things on island,” he said. “It’s not a great first impression, that and the queues and lack of protection from sun and rain for cruise visitors. The facilities for welcoming cruise visitors are not great.”
Lack of vision
Establishing a proper tourism policy and having an individual lead that policy from within government were critical to the future of the industry, the panel said.
Christian said that the industry was guided by the National Tourism Management Policy, an out-dated document, having been written in 1992 -3 and updated in 2008 and therefore needed a fresh approach.
Treadwell urged more discussion on issues that the Cayman Islands Tourism Association had outlined as critical, such as extending the airport runway to accommodate long haul flights from Europe, as well as the possibility of Sunday trading and legalising gambling.
“Other islands such as St Barts and St Lucia, which have direct airlift to Europe have another customer base into which they can tap that we don’t have,” he explained. “European visitors make great customers because they have to work that much harder to come here. We are missing out on a great opportunity.”