Optimism over tourism development boom

At one end of Seven Mile Beach, the Kimpton Seafire resort is nearing completion. 

At the other end of the beach, and the other end of the spectrum, developers are just getting started on transforming the failing Treasure Island into a Margaritaville Resort. 

These two projects, and a handful of other developments, including confirmation that a new hotel is in the works for Beach Bay, Bodden Town, have been touted by government as evidence that investor confidence is returning to Grand Cayman’s tourism industry. 

Arrival figures, which hit record levels in 2014, have plateaued in 2015. 

On several occasions Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell has stated that additional beds are needed to allow for further growth. 

Build it and they will come, is the philosophy being espoused by government and some of the investors bringing new projects to the Cayman Islands. 

The diversity of intent in the new projects – luxury, with a touch of kookiness from the Kimpton, a party atmosphere from Margaritaville and upscale eco-tourism from Beach Bay – suggests businesses are seeking new tourists rather than simply competing for market share. The same can be said of Health City Cayman Islands as it moves forward with plans for an on-site hotel. 

Jackie Doak, chief operating officer of Dart Realty, said new hotel stock itself was an incentive to new tourists. Beyond the attributes of the design and branding, Kimpton Seafire has appeal, she says, as the first new hotel in the Cayman Islands in over a decade. 

“One of the benefits of Kimpton is they have a presence in most of the gateways that serve Cayman with direct flights,” she said. “We think it will increase the tourism rather than take from other hotels.” 

Kimpton CEO Mike DeFrino said the company’s marketing machinery would help attract different tourists to the island, including from Europe. He added, “We are seeing demand in the upper end of the tourism market, not only in the Caribbean but in Mexico and Hawaii. There is room in the pool for this hotel. This is going to be different, I think complementary in many ways, to what is already on the island.” 

While Kimpton describes itself as a boutique hotel chain with quirks, like free rental bikes for guests and yoga mats in the rooms, it is clear that designers intend to create a destination resort. The elevated glass-walled lobby will offer dramatic views of the Caribbean Sea and the hotel grounds will link to the Dart-owned yacht club on North Shore via a network of walking paths and cycle lanes. 

Dart also has concrete plans for another hotel on Seven Mile Beach that will link Camana Bay with the beach. 

Four Seasons has been linked to the project, though Dart has yet to confirm. 

While the Dart developments, of the many projects proposed for Grand Cayman, seem the most certain, there is confidence about a number of others. 

The Howard Hotel Group bought the failing Treasure Island Resort in November. 

Howard Sitzer, chairman of the company, which is opening up offices in Cricket Square, said the large property on Seven Mile Beach had failed to realize its potential over the years. He said it would be transformed into a fun venue that attracted locals and tourists alike. 

He says the resort will target tourists in an entirely different niche to the Kimpton or the Four Seasons. 

“The other hotels that are coming in are not in the same segment of the market. We are bringing a happy, fun place where people can go and let their hair down, have a drink and a dance and enjoy the beach. 

“It is not necessarily true that we are going to compete for people that are already coming there now. It could be that as the options expand in Cayman, the appeal expands and more tourists come to the island.” 

Treasure Island will remain open throughout the renovations and, if all goes according to plan, will open in late 2016. 

Further east, in Bodden Town, John Layton is making progress on a long-held ambition to bring a five-star resort to a part of the Cayman Islands that remains relatively untouched by large-scale hotel developments. 

Layton, of Beach Bay Land Development Ltd, and the Cayman Islands government announced a deal, involving $25 million in concessions, that will facilitate the development of a 10-story, $200 million resort. 

He told the Journal that the hotel would bring a different kind of experience again. 

“The location at St. James Point possesses a particularly secluded location, spectacular vistas and natural beauty. As such, the site lends itself to a more private and exclusive experience, an alternative to the Seven Mile Beach corridor.” 

Layton, who is also managing director of Melkonian Capital Management Ltd., believes year-round sunshine, modern infrastructure and strong airlift make Cayman a solid bet for hotel developers, particularly those targeting the top end of the market. 

“I believe there is a strong potential for both short- and long-term growth and diversification in Cayman’s tourism industry. 

“We are already beginning to see diversification in the country’s tourism offering with projects such as Health City Cayman Islands focusing on the medical tourism market and enhancing the eastern districts. As we look to the future, eco-friendly and sustainable tourism will become increasingly important to the industry and has certainly been a strong focus for the design and development stages of St. James Point.” 

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Premier Alden McLaughlin and Kimpton CEO Mike DeFrino pose with the hotel’s rental bikes at an event in November.

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The Kimpton Seafire hotel is due to open for business next year.

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