Air arrivals looking up, but cruise figures keep sinking

The Cayman Islands is adding airlift from mature markets in North America as well as exploring new ones to the South, which bodes well for present and future stayover tourism. However, continued uncertainty over cruise berthing allied to redeployment of ships away from the Caribbean is leading to lower numbers than ever before, a situation that analysts reckon isn’t changing any time soon.  

Shomari Scott, director of tourism, told The Journal that the lack of a purpose-built facility will continue to impact potential arrivals – as Premier McKeeva Bush has repeatedly commented. In the meantime, there are discussions taking place, said Scott. 

“In his capacity as minister of tourism, the premier is negotiating with Cruise Association executives to keep a steady stream of cruise passengers arriving in the Cayman Islands. However, this is becoming increasingly more difficult because the mega ships will not stop at ports that do not have the appropriate facilities and the older ships that are currently in rotation visiting Cayman are being redeployed to new emerging markets. 

“The Premier hopes that plans for cruise berthing will be finalized shortly. When this occurs, temporary fixes will be implemented as part of the short term plan to enhance the Port experience, with the goal being to make it as pleasant as possible during the interim period while building is taking place,” said Scott. 

He added that the Spotts Jetty would be designated for the first phase in the overall cruise enhancement/development plan and this work is slated to begin in September. 

Jane van der Bol, executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association noted that although the first three months of 2012 were relatively robust, it was likely that cruise arrival numbers would mirror those of 2011 which saw a significant drop-off in calls from April/May through to the end of the year when compared to previous years. 

“Going into the summer, I feel we are going to see some quieter numbers. We are coming off a recession, not coming out of one. We all have the desire to travel; we can only stay cooped up for so long. There is a lot of competition to bring people out to travel. 

“Cruise rates were extremely competitive and it was difficult not to take advantage of that but you can only sustain a low price for so long. What is happening is that there is not a big drop of rates during the summer, as it has already been given in high season. So the value is not there,” said van der Bol. 

With lower priced fares also comes a different demographic mix, with less disposable income, she added. A cruise berthing facility, she said, would make for a better guest experience and allow mega ships to dock whilst allowing Cayman to compete with other destinations which have a walk-on, walk-off facility. But the tourism association also notes that a proper environmental impact study must be undertaken before any infrastructure projects are built, she said. 


Stayover tourism up  

Arrivals by air are a different story. The announcement that JetBlue is to begin flying to New York and Boston plus the recent introduction of Cayman Airways flights to Dallas and Panama have boosted a sector already on the rise following the successful introduction of Canadian carrier WestJet into the mix. 

Scott said that one of the major components of the Department of Tourism’s strategy to increase stayover visits was to attract airlift from markets which have latent demand, or places with potential. 

“[These potential markets have] potential visitors need to be educated as to why they should spend their hard earned dollars on a Cayman Islands vacation versus the plethora of other choices available in the marketplace. 

“Understanding that this has been particularly important in the current economic environment, we continually work on securing key airlift service from not only our National airline, but from other large international carriers such as Delta, United, WestJet and most recently Jet Blue. In the last four years, through such efforts, we have increased service by either working with new carriers or opening up opportunities for direct service [to these new markets],” said Scott. 

Almost every single month since 2010 has shown an increase in air arrivals, commented van der Bol, 

“Dallas has shown to be a very smart logistical move for us and has been at over 80 per cent load since it began. I believe Cayman Airways will have to consider how they move forward after September. It is a good gateway for us. 

“Panama is opened up and though it is not doing exactly the numbers we would like straight away it is a brand new territory. We first need to make them aware who we are and make them want to visit us. The three main destinations are Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela looking to come through Panama to the Cayman Islands, it’s the whole of South America,” said van der Bol. 

The route will take time to develop, she explained, which is through marketing, word of mouth and advertising efforts in these markets. 

Shomari Scott said that the recession meant that the Department of Tourism had a strategic business objective to derive greater return on investment. Increased analytical research had boosted an understanding of customers’ needs and working closer with the private sector to increase destination promotions from two to five annually, plus the Caymankind rebranding, had helped reposition the Cayman Islands and delivered greater results. 

CAL unloading Jam

Air arrivals had another year of strong growth of 7.2 per cent, according to the Annual Economic Report 2011 released by the Cayman Islands government’s Economics and Statistics Office.