The 251-foot vessel is the Caribbean’s newest wreck dive attraction and provides a much-needed boost, said Rod McDowall of Red Sail.
“It broadens our diving product and as good as our reefs and walls are you always need to have a bit of additional thrown in there to add some pizzazz and zap to the product. It does that, most of all.
“Wrecks are very popular with the diving community and it will give another reason to come here rather than perhaps an alternative location. It’s a great product enhancement,” said Mr. McDowall.
Tourism professionals anticipate that the attraction could bring in an additional 10,000 people per year to the island. According to Stephen Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers and a past president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, each of those stay-over tourists spends an average of $1,000 or more on the island.
“That’s a lot of money – the Kittiwake is probably worth an extra $10 million a year to the economy, in my opinion. It is the biggest thing to happen in the watersports industry of the Cayman Islands since Stingray City.”
Project leader Nancy Easterbrook, who has been working on the Kittiwake for seven years along with Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and the Department of Tourism, says that it will up interest significantly both on and off the island.
“While the Kittiwake will cause more repeat guests to return and more new diving tourists to come that are excited about diving and snorkelling a Navy ship, the main goal is to increase our tourism numbers back to what they used to be. As divers represent a large portion of the tourism clientele, this new product development will surely stimulate and assist in attaining that goal.
“Also, as a new attraction, new tours will be created that are new and exciting for both cruise and stay over guests, in addition to residents enjoying the new attraction,” she said.
On a local basis, it also provides great opportunities for local companies serving cruise ships and stay-over visitors. Mr. McDowall noted that the Kittiwake adds a snorkel or dive destination for operators to build a tour round. Because of its position at the top end of Seven Mile Beach / West Bay it is also an easy visit for cruise ships, who may only be docked for a few hours.
Crucially, too, the ship’s location makes it accessible to more than just hardcore divers.
“It’s a really good wreck, in only 60 feet of water with the top 15 to 20 feet from the surface so it’s going to be a great snorkel site as well,” said the Cayman dive industry legend.
Chasing the dive dollar
As more and more destinations open up worldwide to chase the dive dollar, it has become increasingly important to offer an excellent product, with the industry in Cayman anticipating the Kittiwake will add to the 365 sites already available around the islands.
“It gives Cayman an edge that other destinations don’t have. If you look at the number of wrecks sunk in Florida, there’s a huge amount and it’s been an enormous boon for the dive industry and tourism in general.
“People go there for the whole circuit of wrecks and it adds to the economy quite significantly. I think what we’ll find as we go along is that the West Bay dock, if government gets behind it the way they should, will become a nice little landing area and if they do develop that area up there it’ll be a good stop for tour operators – not just boats but transport, taxis, food and beverage and new businesses. There’s lots of potential to expand and enhance the area. It’s very well-protected there so it’s an ideal location.”
The Kittiwake is attracting attention from far and wide, according to Don McDougall, the Department of Tourism’s Regional Manager for Europe.
“From a European perspective there’s been a lot of awareness about the Kittiwake and there is a huge interest in wreck diving. Many of Cayman’s wrecks have long-since disappeared as they were all wooden-hulled ships so there may be an anchor chain here or there, aside from some of the more recently-sunk iron ships.
“This is a fantastic asset for Grand Cayman. There has been a lot of interest from people in the UK talking to us at dive shows and after the coverage it has had in dive magazines,” explained McDougall.