West Bayer Ken Hydes is a very familiar face on the Cayman scene, having worn many different hats in and around construction, tourism and hospitality over the years. He’s been elected the new president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association and spoke to the Journal about his aims and tasks in leading the private sector body through his year as top man.
Hydes, 47, first started at Cayman Turtle Farm in 1993, which he said was his first baptism into the hospitality industry.
“Back when I started I was very much involved in the operations side. We were at that time the No. 1 land-based tourist attraction on the Island, getting about 24 or 25 per cent of all tourist visiting the Island visiting the farm. It is closer to 12 or 13 per cent now.
“It was then focussed around just the turtle farm with viewing areas including the breeding farm and turtle tanks, plus the flora and fauna, the aviary and some crops.” At that stage, he noted, it was a profitable venture. But the weather intervened.
“With the devastation brought on by Hurricane Michelle the decision was taken to expand the offerings of the farm. That decision was taken after we got a large number of industry people in the room and asked what it should become, how it could improve. A lot of what you see there now is very much as a result of that meeting to take it forward.
“It is a very-much talked about entity these days and certainly in election year there is a lot of commentary on it,” Hydes noted.
Following the Turtle Farm, he started two companies, Midas Consulting and a security company to oversee the project management and opening of Dolphin Discovery. After its completion, Hydes went on to work for Dart Realty Cayman Ltd.
“My career has been split between the development industry, where for 1986 to 1993 I worked for MacAlpine here in Grand Cayman. When I first came to Dart in 2009 I was managing construction projects for tenant fit-outs.
“But somewhere in all of that work I was doing, someone within the organisation said that Camana Bay had to be attractive to the visiting population as well so they needed someone to take charge of that area. I was asked to take responsibility for the Town Centre, its activation and basically making it a place not just for residents.”
Encouraging tour operators to pick up and drop off at the harbour and working with cruisers, hotels and car rentals to promote the destination was key, he said, which brought him back to his tourism roots.
That has now come full circle with his new appointment. Hydes said that tourism was ‘in his blood.’
“There is a lot to be done,” said Hydes.
“As an industry we are very encouraged by the numbers we are seeing for air arrivals. It is something we cannot relax on. We need to be very vigilant and work hard. One of the key things is keeping those air numbers up, working on the service and all of the things that go toward making the Cayman Islands top and centre of everyone’s minds.
“The cruise tourism is another key challenge for us. It has a huge trickle down effect and touches a lot of individuals within the community, from the employment base. The trends we are seeing with topical issues like berthing and reduced numbers are impacting us. We are going to look at how we as a sector, as an association, can support the government to see if we can bring any of our expertise, support and clarity to those issues. We need to get them from ‘items to do’ to a ‘completed category.” Hydes said that it was important for the private sector and government to be fully engaged with each other.
“We have people within our sector who have vast experience within the industry. We can be considered the subject matter experts so we want to make sure that going forward the current fantastic relationship with Department of Tourism remains solid,” he noted.
Another agenda item is the perennial issue of how to get more Caymanians within the tourism and hospitality sector. Hydes said that it is partly an education process.
“We do have people within the tourism association board itself that have not only talked about the idea but have been able to turn back some of those trends and move it forward.” A strategic retreat took place on 12 June, he said, from which more clearly defined objectives for the year will emerge.
“The key thing within our industry is making sure that when representation is required within our industry, the relevant people from our sector and association are sought out to represent it.
“There is no point, for example, talking to someone in the construction industry about tourism issues. The sector is very unique; those with the boots on the ground know what is going on. We do not want to impose ourselves but we do want to be part of the process. There are a lot of in-tune members who are looking forward to this.
“We have drawn up a list of boards, which impact our industry, and have looked at our industry base and decided who we would put forward to serve on those boards, if asked. Now some say that’s putting the cart before the horse, but if we’re asked at short notice we want to be able to give people our top three choices that we feel are good candidates. That is being proactive and that’s the way we want to take the association forward,” he said.