Cayman’s National Festival, Pirates Week, is upon us and amongst the swashbuckling and plank-walking lies a swathe of economic and public relations boosts.
The festival is now in its 34th year and has grown to be one of the most-recognisable events in Cayman. Indeed, said Acting Director of Tourism, Shomari Scott, it’s unique in the Caribbean.
“People love the Heritage Days and Pirates Week and tell us it is exciting, different and something really worth doing,” said Scott.
He added that it was something that gave Cayman an international profile and presented an opportunity to speak about Cayman’s culture, heritage and tourism offering.
Hotels, too, welcome Pirates Week’s influx of visitors, albeit that November is the beginning of the tourism season proper.
“Pirates week is a key fall festival for us at Comfort Suites,” said Thomas Mason, general manager.
“We see occupancy growth of about 25 per cent for the week. This brings in a terrifically varied cliental of ‘wannabe’ pirates from all sorts of locations and all sorts of ages. It is a real highlight for both our guests and our staff every year.”
The hotel, he added, has had Blackbeard and his wife stay for the last seven years.
“He is always a real highlight and talking point for our guests at breakfast! There seems to be some real interest in the festival, which is probably generated by the hard work of the pirates week committee and some new marketing strategies.
“The cultural events have also been really popular with our guests. We had some guests last year who visited the North Side as well as the East End; the food and the culture was terrific in both districts and they loved it. We will be recommending our guests to go on out to the districts to experience the real Cayman.”
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association added that the festival can have a wider effect than merely in the week of the bash itself. Executive Director Trina Christian commented that Pirates Week was a part of the established year-round offering.
“Some sectors rely more heavily on it than others. There is a perceived demographic for Pirates Week and they have seen who comes for the event in the past, so for some businesses it’s huge such as downtown and food and beverage operators who can extend offers and see an uptick in the volume of people out spending.
“There are properties which definitely have guests who are down for Pirates Week or those on-island who are excited and want to get involved. We see more condos and villas and visiting friends and family as the highest rate of visitors in general, on past survey results which we have had,” she noted.
She added that there was a high percentage of people who were already planning a Cayman Islands vacation who may participate plus a significant number of dive groups that come down.
“A lot of dive operators have their own set of Pirates Week events as well as the main parade and so on.”
Another aspect from a business standpoint, said the executive director, is the fact that Tampa has a large contingent of pirates. A promotion was undertaken in that destination in early 2011 to try and attract that community down to the festival.
“We have a historical following of repeat visitors for Pirates Week, then between the local residents enjoying Pirates Week they tell their friends and family who might be planning a trip anyway but specifically visit during this time.
“Since the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have taken off and become so popular it has been very advantageous for us to align with the pirate theme and the worldwide buzz that has. I think it helped to leverage the benefits of having our own Pirates Week, although of course we do not have a direct sponsorship with that. It has definitely assisted in making it an exciting time for everybody.”
She concluded that in terms of public relations it got people talking about Cayman Islands, which was of value to the destination. When people did come to the Island, the opportunity to enjoy the local establishments and get involved was also excellent for the local businesses.
“Businesses who do put something on specifically for Pirates Week certainly do benefit,” she said.