Brits aim for Caribbean

Although the British are looking to curtain their vacations this year as the recession bites in the UK, when they do take a vacation it may well be in the Caribbean, according to one significant report. What is the Cayman Islands doing to ensure it gets its fair share of the pie? Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports.

A new report entitled ‘2009 Travel Trends’ produced by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and ABTA, the UK Travel Association, reveals that Caribbean destinations as well as Mexico will see a significant increase in British visitors in 2009. The report says the reason for this focus by British travelers is the strength of the Euro against the pound, which is deterring Brits from taking their vacations in the traditional popular destinations such as Spain and France.

Worldwide, holiday hotspots for 2009 include Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Dubai, Dominican Republic, St Lucia, Cuba, Aruba, Galapagos Islands, Iceland, Poland, Croatia, Australia, i.e. a significant proportion of Caribbean destinations, though the report does not mention the Cayman Islands in this list.

To reiterate this optimism for the Caribbean, at the end of last year, British Airways head of UK and Ireland sales Richard Tams was reported as saying: “It’s not all doom and gloom for travel in the current economic climate as destinations such as Dubai and the Caribbean Islands of St Kitts and St Lucia continue to experience growth and investment, so we anticipate greater numbers of customers wanting to travel there.”

Still no mention of the Cayman Islands, however.

Don McDougall is the Regional Manager, Europe for the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. He states, “Overall the industry opinion is that any US dollar or Euro currency based destinations are likely to be less popular among the average overseas holiday maker. (Note I mentioned the average) Hence the suggested hot spots to be Egypt, Mexico, Turkey, Australia etc. However, where there is mass market tourism combining charter airlift and all-inclusive hotel arrangements, for example in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, as the customer can pre-pay this in the UK in pounds knowing that everything they will need (food, drink, entertainment and some tours/water sports) will all be included in this price, such destinations are more likely to buck the trend.”

McDougall furthers, “In general, the cost of our product in Cayman (scheduled flight plus room only accommodation added then to the local food & beverage costs) determines that we do not tend to get many visitors from the average income/demographic groups, unless they are visiting friends and family living in Cayman. Therefore, to a certain extent, as we tend to attract the more affluent visitors, the likelihood is that Cayman should weather the downturn better than other Dollar based destinations. By no way are we being complacent and while this is an opinion we subscribe to, DOT is actually continuing with an aggressive and targeted marketing campaign (which we initiated two years ago) where other destinations may have recently reduced their investment.”

McDougall says that his team’s marketing strategy already appears to be paying off, with a recent British Airways promotional offer putting the Cayman Islands at the head of the pack in the Caribbean.

“The British Airways ‘World Offers’ which went on sale from 27 December, is already showing bookings to Grand Cayman outperforming in percentage growth terms BA sales to all other individual Caribbean islands they serve. The other interesting fact is that they are seeing a strong uptake in premium fares (not just the economy entry price) suggesting that our strategy in targeting the wealthier demographic consumer groups is paying dividends,” he states.

The Cayman Islands DOT is certainly marching full steam ahead into 2009, with a marketing campaign which includes many different facets, such as the continuation of a TV sponsorship deal, an effective on-line marketing campaign, working with media such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, the BBC, British Airways,, Google, as well as wide exposure achieved from an aggressive public relations campaign.

McDougal says this has so far included nine pages in Conde Nast Traveller (November issue), full pages in the Mail on Sunday and the Express (November/December), Country Life (December). He confirms that a whole rash of national media features is set to hit the press between now and the Spring 2009. All of these, McDougall states, are the results of DOT’s visiting journalist programme.

He adds, “The Chelsea Flower Show made a huge splash for Cayman last year, and we have plans to out do our 2008 exhibit in May 2009. We also believe in creating effective relationship building with the retail travel trade and tour operators, a vital part of the marketing plan for Cayman.”

Despite the downturn in the economy for the second half of last year, McDougall says they are still anticipating that Cayman will have attracted further growth over 2007, itself a record year from this market.

He concludes, “Absolutely, 2009 will be a tough year, but we strongly believe that we are using the right strategy and tactics to ensure that Cayman receives a good return on its investment in tourism from Europe.”