Grand Cayman has been seeing a wave of new hotel developments catering to the luxury travel market.

Multiple resorts are in the works, from Seven Mile Beach to East End. Record-breaking tourism numbers – nearly 2.4 million visitors arrived by air and sea in the Cayman Islands in 2018, the highest number recorded for a single year – and a robust economy are fueling the boom, which is being echoed in the residential real estate market.

“There are a number of factors fueling our resort real estate boom, but the most predominant factor is our increases in stayover tourism,” said Kim Lund, owner/broker at RE/MAX Cayman Islands.

“Tourism represents the demand element for our resort property market and as long as we continue to increase tourism with an affluent market of visitors, then sales of resort properties will continue to experience strong demand,” he said.

Indeed, it’s been a banner season for tourism in the Cayman Islands, and the destination is showing no signs of slowing down. According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the Cayman Islands was one of the highest performing destinations in the region last year.

In previous years, lack of available rooms had been a major detriment to the stayover sector but a diversifying economy along with the addition of major hotel brands is having an impact.

“The Kimpton’s entrance into the marketplace, as well as the repositioning of Margaritaville, has led to an increase in much-needed room stock for the island,” said Matthew Wight, managing director of NCB group.

“Other factors responsible for the resort boom are the strength of the financial services industry and the health services tourism through Health City,” he said. “We are currently seeing 400,000 stayover visitors a year – we still have a long way to go compared to places like Jamaica that get 2.4 million stayover visitors a year – but through the growth of our hospitality sector and hotel rooms, we’ll see these numbers continue to grow.”

Hilton brand

NCB group, known for its upscale residential developments such TIDES and SOLARA, is making its first foray into hotel development with a boutique wellness and business resort planned on the old Treehouse restaurant site, opposite Kirk Market. Hilton has partnered with the developer for the resort, which will be the luxury brand’s first hotel in the Cayman Islands.

The seven-story Curio Collection by Hilton – a group of hotels noted for their unique character – will feature 80 rooms and a broad range of amenities, including a spa spanning the entire seventh floor. Among other amenities: two farm-to-table restaurants, a swim-up bar, conference facilities and gym.

The one to-three-bedroom units are available for sale, with several units being sold as residences for those looking to live there full-time.

Wight said wellness tourism is a rapidly growing market, and this focus will set the Hilton development apart in Cayman.

“It’s an untapped market for Cayman, relatively speaking,” he said. “We are excited to be introducing a product, such as this, that will differentiate us from the rest of the resorts on the island and provide us with the ability to compete on a global level for this business.”

Site work has begun on the hotel, with an official groundbreaking set for April. The project is expected to be complete by the summer of 2021.

The increase in stayover tourism is the predominant factor responsible for the resort boom, says Kim Lund, who with his wife Ashleigh Lund is behind a planned 28-bungalow healing resort on the site of the old Mariners Cove in Prospect.

Dart developments

The Cayman Islands’ biggest commercial real estate developer, Dart Real Estate, is continuing to build a hotel district that started with the opening of the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa in 2016. At the time, it was Dart’s first hotel, the Kimpton’s first international property and Grand Cayman’s first new hotel in more than a decade.

Since then, Dart has added the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman resort to its portfolio of properties in the Seven Mile Beach area. It also bought the Beach Suites resort, the Hyatt hotel, the Britannia golf course and the Royal Palms property, with plans to build a five-star hotel, likely a Four Seasons, there.

It has also ventured into the Sisters Islands. The Dart group has purchased Paradise Villas resort and Hungry Iguana restaurant on Little Cayman and is in the process of finalizing the purchase of luxury resort Le Soleil D’Or in Cayman Brac.

Another major entry is the five-star Grand Hyatt Grand Cayman Hotel & Residences being constructed on the Pageant Beach site, located at the southern end of West Bay Road, near the Hilton site.

The 10-story, 351-room resort will include six cafes and restaurants, a spa and fitness center, three swimming pools, shops and private screening room.

The Howard Hospitality Group is the company behind the development, expected to open in late 2020.

Eastern activity

While activity is booming along the Seven Mile corridor, resort development is also moving inland – and to the east.

That includes a major expansion of Morritt’s Tortuga Club in East End. The $30-million project will include a new main building with at least 40 units, with developer David Morritt noting he is hoping to match the height of some of the 10-story hotels on Seven Mile Beach.

The time-share property currently has 15,000 members. The expansion would double that number to 30,000. The developer expects to start building within two years.

Earlier in the year, it was announced that The Mandarin Oriental, Grand Cayman will be built in the Beach Bay area of Bodden Town, the first luxury resort being built away from Seven Mile Beach.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group will manage the long-awaited luxury resort and residences, which are expected to open in 2021. The resort will include 100 rooms, 89 residences, five restaurants and bars, and its own farm for growing farm-to-table fare. It will also feature a spa, fitness center, several outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts.

Lund said while the additional hotels is strengthening Cayman’s presence in the market, he cautions it could be susceptible to oversaturation.

“In terms of resort development, we can absorb up to two or three new resort properties per year,” he said. “However, this will depend on the number of units for sale and their sales prices. Too many new properties in a similar price range can quickly saturate our small resort market.”

Lund himself is venturing into the resort sector with wife Ashleigh Lund. The plan is to build a 28-bungalow healing resort on the site of the old Mariners Cove in Prospect. Among the amenities are a spa, yoga pavilion and meditation center. It is expected to be complete by late 2020.

Tourism upswing

Part of Cayman’s tourism boom comes from the destructive storm season of 2017 that hit several Caribbean destinations, forcing travelers to make other plans.

This brought growth for competing destinations, including Cayman, noted Wight.

He added major events such as the recent KAABOO music festival, along with strategic marketing efforts by the Department of Tourism, have helped boost Cayman’s international profile as a premier vacation destination.

Wight said the resort boom has great potential for Cayman to tap into new travel markets.

“Through the addition of hotel inventory, we can attract larger group bookings and look at the incentive travel market that may not have considered Cayman before due to the fact that most hotels are sold out at peak times,” he said.