Tourism product lacks Cayman touch

| 21/10/2009

(CNS): There was very little disagreement last night when the Department of Tourism road show visited West Bay to talk to the people of the community about where they see this pillar of the Cayman economy going. Tourism today lacks the real Cayman touch, the small gathering of West Bayers agreed. They said that it was Caymanians that had created the successful tourism business because of their unique friendliness and approach to guests, but now it was owned, managed and served by foreigners. They lamented the fact that some visitors who come to the Cayman Islands now may never even encounter a single Caymanian during their stay.

Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush said in his short opening statement at the meeting that there was a need to develop new strategies to move Cayman’s tourism product forward. He asked the audience to speak their minds about what needed to be done to tackle the many challenges. Bush lamented what he saw as the problem of divergence in the sector and the lack of a common goal.

“Over the years there has been no co-ordinated approach,” he said, adding that divers see Cayman in terms of a dive destination, those serving the cruise ship passengers see it from that position, and so on, with everyone in the industry wanting something different to serve the interests of their part of the sector. “That is exactly what we do not want, “Bush said. “We want to shape a strategy that will create a shared vision.”

However, it was apparent that the shared visions among the small crowd that had turned out on the wet evening was the pressing need to find a way of encouraging Caymanians back into the sector. The discussion forum was directed by Steve Yastrow of Yastrow & Company, a Chicago marketing company that has been commissioned to help the DoT develop new strategies for the future.

The people at the meeting were a mixed group of those working directly in the tourism business, those who had retired from the industry, as well as civil servants and people from other sectors. They all, however, made the same point that Caymanians need to be on the frontline. When Yastrow asked if work-permit holders could offer the unique ‘Cayman Touch’ if they were properly trained and inducted, the West Bayers on the whole disagreed and said that it was not something that could not be taught but was a natural unique part of being Caymanian.

They agreed that there was a fundamental lack of knowledge among work permit holders which had to be addressed, but the real problem was the complete lack of Cayman faces and Caymanians present on the tourism frontline.

Paul Rivers, a former independent candidate in the recent elections who works in the tourism industry, explained what had happened to Cayman’s tourism product and lamented the drive for money that had taken over.  “The Cayman people developed the tourism product, long before we began importing cheap labour,” he said. “People who used to come and visit connected with the Cayman people and became family. We need to make the tourism industry more appealing to Caymanians so they can make a decent living and then they can come back.”

Others in the audience agreed that Caymanians were being excluded from their own tourism business because of unfair work practices and poor salary levels. A number of people noted that as most of the hotels, condominiums and tour operations were owned by foreign conglomerates who had turned to cheap foreign labour, Caymanians had in turn, turned away from the sector as they were simply no longer able to get their fair share from the tourism business coming on to the island.

“So few Caymanians own tourism related businesses now that we are losing more and more of our own product every day,” one person lamented.

The drive from overseas investors to just make money had seen the Cayman touch fall by the way side and the increased and constant pace of development had changed Cayman into some other destination, more akin to Miami Beach. The overpowering impact of cruise tourism on stayover tourism was also noted as a concern. One Cayman taxi driver noted how overnight guests did not like the huge impact that the cruisers had on George Town. However, others suggested that if George Town was pedestrianised the two groups of tourists could probably co-exist more easily.

The tourism road show will continue on its tour of the districts this week and will be in Bodden Town this evening, Wednesday 21 October.

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  1. M. Bodner says:

    The meeting in West Bay regarding more Caymanian presence in Tourism is a great start. There is a world-wide respect for Tourism that was earned by each country over the years. We’re simply learning ours now. I feel pretty confident that in some near future, we’ll see born and returning Caymanians flock back to Tourism. When that happens, we’ll see some great innovation and home-grown passion that our visitors will embrace.  – Just like the early 90’s, the local business owners will once again interact with the guests, and create friendships that will float us to new tourism numbers that we are desperately trying to acheive via the traditional, corporatemodels – which simply don’t apply anymore. The target just keeps moving. What makes Cayman unique and iteresting remains our people. We just need to lure ourselves – back into our own Tourism product… Now is a great time for that. Don’t count Cayman out – Our Financial pillars are being jack-hammered in the world-press. A revised Tourism labour scene, filled with young Caymanians, and the old wealthy families investing more towards hotels and renewable tourism businesses, may even turn that around when they come and see that its not "like that" here. It really is up to us. Oh, and waiting for government – any government to legislate tourism success is probably unrealistic – even with the best intentions. The whole world has been holding their breath – now that an early winter is upon the North and Mid-West US, we stand as good a chance to bring in tourists and work our magic! Americans who missed the job lay-offs, are ready to get out of the cold! Optimism is high, repeat Optimism is high.

  2. Anonymous says:

     As a 25 year veteran of the restaurant business in Cayman I would like to add a comment.  The first place I worked, out of 18 employees only 4 were work permitted. All the servers were Caymanian ladies who worked one job during the day and waited tables at night! They were fantastic… hard working and energetic, doing the best for their families. But, for most of them,  it was a second job.  The day job was the important one.  In those days there were only a few restaurants…now there are, what…100. Customer demands have changed as well. Clients are not as laid back. They expect servers to know wines, food components, beverages, etc. and are intolerant of misunderstandings and mistakes. Learning all the aspects of service takes time, study and experience. It can be very rewarding financially as well as personally but it is a metier these days and needs to be taken seriously.  

  3. Anonymous says:

    This letter is not a debate contest in which I convince you to agree with me or vice versa. This letter is concerned only with establishing the truth about department of tourism. And that’s why I feel compelled to say something about pudibund, pertinacious cult leaders. Governments’s premise (that if it kicks us inthe teeth we’ll then lick its toes and beg for another kick) is its morality disguised as pretended neutrality. DOT leadership uses this disguised morality to support its expostulations, thereby making its argument self-refuting.

    The dupes get a thrill out of protesting. They have no idea what causes they’re fighting for or against. For them, going down to the local protest, carrying a sign  and meeting some other snarky mendicants is merely a social event. They’re not even aware that the DOT language consists largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer, cloudy vagueness. But the recommendations don’t end there. If governments’s attempts to harvest what others have sown have spurred us to replace today’s chaos and lack of vision with order and a supreme sense of purpose, then government may have accomplished a useful thing. A long time ago I wrote that "government manipulates public opinion through raw emotion, sexual desire, ‘family values’, comedy, music, entertainment, false religion, social engineering, journalistic propaganda, and junk science". Today I might add that if government feels ridiculed by all the attention my letters are bringing it, then that’s just too darn bad. Its arrogance has brought this upon itself. I could be wrong about any or all of this, but at the moment, the above fits what I know of history, people, and current conditions.

  4. Anonymous says:

    My suggestion of a reality show is not taken seriously. Then, my last suggestion would be a better ad campaign. Jamaica has a wonderful ad campaign – I love the theme song with the words "one love, come to Jamaica…" this song have me singing along with it when the commercial is aired on television.

    ***I suggested the reality show because, it’s just that, people look, wonder, imagine. Example, no matter how much Cayman try to dispel the myth that it is not a place to launder money – time and time again, people believe they can just come there with money without any documentation. Is this because of the movie "The Firm?" I don’t know. However, I do know this movie made more people interested in the Islands.

    The ad-campaigns now are boring. Yes, I do see the Cayman Jazz Festival on BET, but, no one really gets to see the islands. No one gets to see what life is really like on the islands. If you have seen the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun," this made a lot of people want to move to Italy, or, at the very least visit. Most travelers would ask, "do you know the lady from Under the Tuscan Sun?" 

    I would like to add, I love the song from the movie "Haven," with the words, "this could be Paradise…" 

  5. hopefull says:

    Be the first to legalize Ganja and they will come.  Not to mention the happy helpfull and not in jail or hiding Caymanain people.  What about it Cayman Leaders?  Seriously.  How many pounds of Ganja are smoked each and every day here.  Why hide anymore.  Why make criminals of so many of your best and brightest people?  California is hoping to do it to get them out of dept.  Isn’t Cayman in dept and getting deeper and deeper?  In this down turning economy do you think less people are smoking Ganja?

    What about it people of Cayman.  Good idea or bad?

    If Ganja was legal here would that help or hurt the tourism?

    This is just an opinion and nothing else so please be truthfull and helpfull.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Why do we keep missing the point.. The thing that made Cayman famous is two simple things.. The people of the islands and the Diving…

     There is no place in the world were you can dive as good visability as you can in Cayman… Support the dive companys,, Get some local people to work at the dive shops and watch it come back..

     Make it a fair price to get here.. Were only a hour from Miami. Get the divers back here. Get Cayman Friendly again and everything else will come.

     Cayman we have lost what brought people back time and time again.. That smile that used to be on everyones face here.. where has that gone?

    Notice I said the people of the Islands.. not local not expat.. just the people… We all used to work together.




    • Lachlan MacTavish says:

      This is all very frustrating and tiring. Tourism was near and dear to me for over 3 decades. Focus groups, district meetings, consultants and yet I have seen no productive change in over 20 years.

      When the Cayman Islands finally has a "Tourism Authority" which would be a blend of the DOT and the private sector, (no more DOT) we might possibly see some change and a new renewed tourism product.

      So far it has been the same old same old for 20 years and it isn’t working. 

  7. Anonymous says:

    I found some local culture at the weekend.  But apparently if you buy a tub of DampRid it does not come back so easily.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Back to the subject! Cayman Islands needs a niche. Something that will make new visitors want to return, something that’s memorable, something that will knock the ball out of the park. Actually, something that will grab the eye of travelers to make them come there.

    Bahamas have the waterslides….Puerto Rico have the Bacardi Rum factory tours, Aruba have the party bus. Belize (formerly British Honduras) have the monkey sanctuary…..

    This is something that actually makes me laugh – Dominica, apparently, the taxi drivers have funny logos written on their windshields, "Help yo’ brother."

    Here’s one suggestion, not quite what people want to hear, but I’m thinking a reality show. "Housewives of Georgetown or Cayman." Maybe someone there could do a few test-pilot shows, and sell to Hollywood. For some reason, these reality shows are extremely popular in the U.S.

    This would, I think, be the first Caribbean islands to do this. The next one could be "Expats of Cayman Islands."

    Most people have never been to Cayman, nor do most know where it is. Then you have other travelers that think, if you’ve been to one islands, you’ve been to all. This is not true. The Cayman islands have the most beautiful homes I’ve seen in the Caribbean. Barbados and Puerto Rico do have mansions…but, I think the homes in the Cayman are spectacular. 

    • Mozzie Fodder says:

      Grand Cayman has the Blue Iguanas? They aren’t found anywhere else in the world. How much more of a niche do you want?

      • Dick Shaughneary says:

        A tourist model based on iguana twitchers has some limitations.  I can imagine the denizens of the flyover states deciding their vacation plans on a tag-line "Fly to Cayman and see the world’s second rarest iguana"

        • Mozzie Fodder says:

          I know you seek a chuckle or two from people reading your smart-ass comment but you fail to offer any ideas of your own.

          I’m pretty sure that eco-tourism and wildlife watching is a draw to many but I agree that you can’t market a destination based only on one thing.

          • Fozzie Mudder says:

            Well to be honest unless you dive Grand Cayman is a fairly awful place to pick for a vacation.  No decent beaches, no interesting geography, no local culture of interest, no history, it is expensive and overdeveloped.  I have had friends ask about coming here on vacation and I have had to tell them the Caribbean is has lot better on offer.

    • Anonymous says:

      You are joking aren’t you? ‘Housewives of Georgetown (George Town) or Cayman’ – don’t believe there are any ‘housewives’ in Cayman.  ‘Expats of Cayman Islands’ – mmmm, interesting.  ‘For some reason, these reality shows are extremely popular in the U.S.’ – What is that reason? Your enthusiasm is great, you are really funny and wonderful to hear your positive comments on Cayman but maybe pass on the TV production career.  Have a wonderful day and keeping smiling!

  9. Joe Average says:

    If tourists want a real Caymanian experience we could put them in traffic at quarter to eight in the morning.  Then when they get out of traffic.  Tailgate them!  After a relaxing dinner for an evening experience, we could drive behind them in the rain with brights on.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The last time I was in Cayman, I experienced the island culture. I asked the taxi driver to take me to the clubs (3) where the locals hang out and had a blast. This, I hate to admit, but the first time in my life I had jerk chicken. As I left the last club for the night, someone was selling the jerk chicken, bar-b-que and potato salad. Hmm, it was delicious.

    I met a few people that lived in the area of Randyke Gardens. I made purchases at Caymanian owned businesses.

    In fact, I had a hard time opening a bank account, even though I had all required documents, it was a Caymanian who called a bank for me, it was smooth sailing from there.***This was the first time I visited.


    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, let’s encourage the tourists to go where they can be shot or mugged more easily.  Great idea.

  11. Caymanluvr says:

    I travel to Cayman frequently, every 3 months to be exact.  Let us not forget that those of us who want to meet Caymanians FIND THEM (it’s not hard!)  and those of us who want to enjoy the unique Cayman culture FIND IT!!   It’s not on Seven Mile Beach.

  12. what a mess! says:

    Question here is: Will DOT or any other part of Govt. really listen to anything here? If previous experience says anything then the answer is NO! Govt. nearly always (especially Mac/UDP) does what the big developers want. "Short term gain for long term pain".

    Just look at who is hired (by Govt.) to conduct this excercise…"a Chicago based Co." With all the local experts in this feild, Govt. hires an American Co.??? Kickbacks anyone?

    Go figure…

  13. Anonymous says:

    Stop being naive.  Ask the tourists not us!

    We need American quality service and top end amenities such as golf courses. If people wanted a Caribbean experience they would go to a real Caribbean island.  Calling food "Cayman style" and playing Bob Marley covers on an electronic keyboard is not what tourists want.

    • Anonymous says:

      Did someboday say "Cayman style" ?

      Is that a Bob Marley cover on an electronic keyboard ?



      • Ex Pat says:

        With all due respect if people want these things perhaps they should have a "Staycation" instead of vacation, i.e. stay at home in America and enjoy your Americanisms to the fullest.

        Most tourists I have met and asked have all said the same thing – why is this place so American?  Where can we see Cayman culture?  The latter (sadly) is a very hard question to answer.

        • Anonymous says:

          "Where can we see Cayman culture?"  You are right, that is a very difficult question to answer.  Been here for years and never seen a sign of it.

          • Anonymous says:

            How many years? 

          • Anonymous says:

            Actually I wasn’t saying that at all (that Cayman culture doesn’t exist).  I guess that proves how easily something someone says on here can be taken completely out of context.  What I was saying is that Cayman culture and traditions seem to be inadequately promoted and are in danger of being lost altogether and I was agreeing that the Cayman Tourism product lacked the Cayman touch.  I wonder how many years you have been here to never experience Cayman culture?  Have you never been to the Museum in GT, Pedro Castle or the Mission House in BT?  Have you not driven around the island and gone off the beaten track – seen the traditional Caymanian cottages and old derilict buildings spotted about the island?

            Cayman culture and traditions exist but they don’t come and land in your lap you have to go out and look for it – get out into the community and meet people.  I came here to experience Cayman, not make money to send home.  I came here 3 years ago and was immediately struck and saddened by how Americanised this place is.  I moved East.  I made a point of getting out into the community and meeting people.  I sit on the beaches and talk to the locals and the fishermen, I sit on porches and chat with the elders, I befriend the children on my street.  I make a point of experiencing Cayman and its people and (apart from here on CNS) I have never come across any ex pat hostility.  Cayman has a rich maritime history and traditions, and (contrary to some comments I have read on here) much of Caymans traditions surround fishing and food, particularly conch and turtle, hence the many suggestions (which I agree with) that there should be more traditional Cayman dishes on menus.  If you have never tasted Cayman food before, perhaps you could visit Cayman’s ‘Culinary month’ this coming January which will include The Cayman Cookout and the Taste of Cayman festivals.  If you have never experienced Cayman art and traditions try the CayFest every April or pop into the National Gallery or even the traditional Cayman Art Shop recently opened in BT.  The Cultural Foundation exists to "stimulate, facilitate and preserve cultural and artistic expression generally, particularly the preservation and exploration of Caymanian performing, visual and literary arts."  Cayman is also blessed with some very gifted writers and musicians.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I am sorry but my family owns and operates a resort in Cayman that is 100% Caymanian owned and has a high percentage of Caymanian employees and while we do have foreign staff our focus has always been Caymanian.  Not once has a Governmental Official attended our opening or re-opening after Ivan inspite of being invited.  Duty concessions have never been granted inspite of the request and support from our local community is by far lacking.  If Caymanians don’t appriciate each other and support eachother how are we to get ahead?  Instead of being bitter against the successful ones lets embrace and be proud of what we have accomplished and move forward with hands grasped tightly together.  Confidence in our products, way of life and local ecomony go much farther than negatives in the eyes of the world.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I have noticed a lot of articles speak to "cheap overseas labour" as to the reason many locals are not in certain industries…that is something that the govt may need to look into carefully…btw…is there a minimum wage?

    I am happy to read this article, because I have been saying that for a while…i can’t remember seeing a local working in a restaurant/bar/hotel since I have been on this Island…most seem to work only in the banks and in offices…maybe that is something that they need to look into some more, because while the work may not be one that is "glamorous" so to speak…it can prove lucrative in the long run…as I have always told myself – no job is to be looked down on as long as you are doing your best and is honest…ppl cannot sit around and expect things to come to them without working for it..remember…God helps those who helps themselves…alot of successful persons have done some of the most "unglamorous" jobs…think about it…

    …all the very best..

  16. Anonymous says:

    To get tourists to come this is what you need:

    -No Violent Crime

    -Beautiful beaches/scenery

    -Good, inexpensive flights

    -Fresh water

    -Good food

    -Good shopping/groceries

    -Good weather

    -Good activities

    -Friendly people


    • O'Dear says:










      Did you have to set the barrier so high?

      • Anonymous says:

         I think compared to our competitors you are being optimistic with the two "Borderlines" rather than having two more "Fails"

      • Anonymous says:

        But you agree with my list right?

        It’s not rocket science to get tourists.

        You can’t "create" a product.

        Really all people want when the go to the Caribbean is to safely relax, enjoy the sun, swim, and have fun.  Preferably not cost too much so they can come back again and again.

        Dolphin swimming, water slides, iguanas, turtles, casinos are just gravy.

        SMB is gorgeous and great with kids.  There are good nonstops to the US.  There are good food options.  Lodging is pricey, but reasonable all things considered.

        For the most part, everyone I have encountered in Cayman was reasonably friendly.


  17. Anonymous says:

     Cayman wanted the money so let the "conglomerates" in. There’s no point complaining now.

    Who was it that bent over backwards to accommodate the Ritz Carlton’s desire to ride roughshod over planning laws? The Caymanian government, which wanted the revenue.

    If you want it to be more Caymanian, put prices up, restrict foreign investment and learn to live with a GDP a small fraction of what it is now.

    You can have a more Caymanian island or you can have a wealthy island. You can’t have both, and in the last 20 years the decisions of government have shown the priority to be money.

  18. Anonymous Ex Pat says:

    I agree that Caymans tourism product (sadly) lacks the Cayman touch.  Indeed I was making a similar comment in another thread, so rather than repeat it, I’ll leave the link to it:

  19. Anonymous says:

    OH BOY,

    I wish that I knew about the meeting last night I would of been there no matter what the weather was like.

    All points are noted in this article and I hope that our Government Leaders will take it upon themselves and work on bring back the Caymanian flavor to this Beautiful Country of ours.

    Bring back the Caymanians from 15 years ago and we will bring back a little of Cayman flavor that we had back then.

     CNS: This meeting was the first of a series, so you can catch the next one.