Imagine peacefully floating hundreds of feet over Cayman Brac in an aerial tram, looking beyond the scenic view of the Bluff and seeing crystal blue water stretching out endlessly in all directions.
After the tram ride around the Bluff, a ferry awaits for a diving trip to Little Cayman. Then, come back to the Brac to eat dinner and say at a five-star hotel.
Brac businessman Mervyn Scott wants to make that imagination a reality.
Scott said he plans on retiring from his position as operations manager of Scott Development at the end of the year. In his retirement, he wants to focus on developing businesses that make the Brac more tourist friendly.
His plans include building an aerial tram around the Bluff and starting a ferry service to Little Cayman.
“My proposal to stimulate economy is to put in the sky crane going along the edge of the Bluff from the western end of the island all the way to the lighthouse down along the north coast,” Scott said.
But the Brac needs more visitors for Scott’s plans to be economically viable. According to statistics from the Ministry of Tourism, the number of Brac visitors was 9,013 in 2015, 9,712 in 2016, and 10,261 in 2018.
To boost those numbers, Scott said some of the territory’s largest investors are seriously discussing the idea of building a cruise pier on the island.
The prospect of a cruise port in the Brac was identified as a goal in the island’s five-year tourism plan, which highlights the potential of upgrading the cargo dock at Creek in the northeastern side of the island to receive small cruise ships and mega-yachts.
“This could relieve some of the cruise ship traffic concentrated on Grand Cayman, and spread the economic benefit of cruise tourism to Cayman Brac,” the plan notes.
Since then, Kirkconnell said further talks have taken place about the possibility of a genuine cruise port on the Brac.
“It was identified in the tourism plan and the discussion is taking place with an operator,” he said.
“We have identified an opportunity for cruise vessels to come to the Brac because of the western route and Cuba opening up a lot of cruise business. I believe the interest is there [for the Brac to be part of that] and we are trying to find out if it is feasible.”
Cruise ships have stopped at the Brac previously, mooring off the Creek dock, but only very occasionally. Kirkconnell said the discussion to create a cruise port in Cayman Brac was entirely separate from the ongoing procurement process for a new port in Grand Cayman. Any such development in the Brac would be on a smaller scale and would depend on the ability to attract enough cruise business to make it worthwhile.
Further, the cruise pier on the Brac would not have the same impact on the environment as a pier on Grand Cayman, according to Scott.
He said because the Brac is right on the edge of the deep waters, no dredging would be necessary. All it would take is extending the “Scott dock” on the north side of the island, he said.
The Department of Environment has not weighed in on this issue, as no formal proposal has been submitted.
“The Department of Environment has not been consulted on a proposed cruise ship pier on Cayman Brac, but if a coastal works application is submitted, then the DoE will be contacted by the Ministry of Environment to provide comments, along with the Department of Planning and the Department of Lands & Survey,” the department stated.
Scott helping develop the island’s tourism product would be a fitting career move for the grandson of Robert Clifton Foster, one of the founding fathers of the Brac’s tourism industry.
Foster built the island’s first hotel, the Buccaneer’s Inn, in 1956, according to Scott. Back then, the island did not have power, and the 10-room hotel – Buccaneer’s Inn – used a generator.
Scott’s family is also connected to the origins of the Divi Tiara Beach resort. He said his father, Capt. Clyde Scott, sold land to a developer for $25,000. Today that land is worth some $25 million and is part of the property of the now defunct Divi Tiara Beach resort.
For years, the Divi Tiara was the centrepiece of the Brac’s tourism product.
When the 71-room Divi Tiara closed in 2006, 37 workers, including 22 Caymanians, lost their jobs. Its owners, the North Carolina-based Divi Resorts, cited economic problems led by insufficient airlift from the US.
“We spent five years nurturing a team in order to create an unbelievable tourist experience,” former resort general manager Max Hillier said at the time. “The resort closing is a major issue. Concern for the future of the staff is what makes it heartbreaking.”
Six of its 12 timeshare units continued to operate.
But after 2008’s Hurricane Paloma badly damaged the resort, the corporation ended all operations, although the group loaned the facility to government to house Brac reconstruction workers in the wake of the storm.
Since then, the site has deteriorated even more, and government has issued multiple orders over the years to the owners requiring them to clean up or face potential fines.
Earlier this year, Scott Development finally demolished what residents had decried as an eyesore for more than a decade.
“The Divi is one of my biggest heartaches,” tour operator Richard ‘Mossy’ Moss said last year, before the site was torn down. “Every time I do a tour pulling out of the Brac Reef, people ask about it. I’m sick and tired of telling that story every day, twice a day.”
Scott said it is his understanding that there is still interest in constructing a new hotel there.