Air arrivals climb higher as cruise calls stall

Air arrivals climb higher as cruise calls stall

| 05/08/2013 | 0 Comments

(CNS Business): In the continuing success story for air arrivals in the Cayman Islands the latest statistics from the Department of Tourism show that at the halfway point of 2013, overnight visitors to Cayman have increased by 6% compared to 2012 which was also a record breaking year. So far over 192,000 people have visited Cayman and stayed overnight guaranteeing that 2013 will be a great year for tourism. In addition, June 2013 had the best statistics since current records began. However in stark contrast the sorry saga for the local cruise industry continues as officials report another all-time low when it comes to the number of cruise visitors coming to Grand Cayman with the worst June on record.

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Government plans tourist market for West Bay

Government plans tourist market for West Bay

| 12/01/2012 | 0 Comments

(CNS Business): In an effort to distribute some of the tourist dollar to the West Bay area, the government is planning to establish a “market by the sea” in the district that will sell and showcase Cayman crafts and local produce, officials have said. The premier revealed the intention of his ministry to create the new market in his New Year message and his office has confirmed that the goal of the project is to enhance cultural tourism as well develop tourism amenities outside of the current George Town and Seven Mile Beach concentration. Still in its conceptual phase, the market will be located at the beginning of North West Point Road.  Read more on CNS Business

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Industry keen to play part in new tourism school

Industry keen to play part in new tourism school

| 01/11/2011 | 4 Comments

(CNS): Following the premier’s announcement in the Legislative Assembly in September that government will be establishing a hospitality school the private sector has put in place plans to develop its own education and training committee through the Cayman Islands Tourism Association. The association anticipates working in tandem with government to ensure the school fits the needs of the industry. Trina Christian-Savage, Executive Director with the CITA said the association is currently forming an education and training committee headed by Ritz-Carlton General Manager Mark Langevin and Marriott Beach Resort General Manager Enrique Tasende.

“We have just redefined the mandate for the committee,” she stated. “The new education and training committee will provide guidance to the government with regard to the development of policy as it related to training and education within the tourism industry.”
Christian-Savage said it was important that the private sector be part of the process and provide input along the way, becoming involved in issues such as when the ideal time is for a young person to be exposed to the industry.

“We feel it is important to get young people involved as young as possible. The earlier they gain exposure the earlier they may realise that this is an industry for them. In this way we can find those passionate students who would be well-fitted to a career in tourism,” she said, adding that the sector hoped the school will provide students with the tools that fit the industry.

West Bay MLA, Cline Glidden said government had planned to work closely with the private sector. “In terms of the practical elements of the courses, government also intends to extend the partnership to include hotels and restaurants that would be willing and able to offer a learning environment in support of this programme. I am confident that at the appropriate time the private sector will step up in this regard and we look forward to working with them to turning this long awaited initiative into a reality,” he said.

In his recent announcement to the Legislative Assembly Bush stated that the hospitality school was long overdue and the tourism department was working with UCCI and members of the private sector to put plans in place to get it established. He also revealed that it would be utilising Treasure Island as the main location for practical training.

Explaining the details of how the school would work, Gina Matthews from the Department of Tourism said themission of the hospitality school was to provide technical training at an international certification level for career opportunities in the hospitality industry. 

The school will be implemented in two phases over 7 years.  The first phase (1-3 years) would offer a City and Guild certification and associate degree programme with international partners such as Cornell University and Johnson and Wales, offering accredited certification for skilled level and associate degree programmes in the areas such as food preparation, food and beverage, front office operations and spa services.

The second phase would establish degree programmes (3-7 years) and identify new core areas of study, such as for careers as a rooms division manager, Maître D, spa director and watersports/dive instructor.

It is also anticipated during this second phase of development that the school would identify partnerships with international universities for Bachelor degree programmes. It would also partner with Ministry of Tourism scholarship programme as a means of financial support for students as well as attract international students to enrol in the UCCI hospitality school.

Matthews explained that an advisory council will be appointed for the hospitality school to assist with the administration and to ensure the school achieves its overall mission and objectives. Its membership will be made up of individuals from the UCCI, the government (Tourism and Immigration departments), the Chamber of Commerce, private sector members from restaurants and accommodation as well as a representative from the financial services sector.

See related story Tourism school planned for local and foreign students


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Captains want port option to go to Cabinet

Captains want port option to go to Cabinet

| 28/10/2011 | 101 Comments

(CNS): Sea captains backing the idea to put the cruise port in Red Bay instead of George Town want government to take it seriously and give the plan proper consideration before, they say, it makes the irreversible mistake of developing in the capital. The group proposing that the facility be built in the South Sound area hope to put their idea to Cabinet before a deal is signed with Chinese Harbour Engineering Company. None of the captains or  supporters have any financial interest in its development but believe government should put the proposal to the Chinese firm as a genuine alternative to the plan currently on the table simply because, they say, it’s a better option for all.

The premier is currently involved in exclusive talks with CHEC to finance, develop and operate two cruise piers in George Town based on a lease of some 49 years. McKeeva Bush entered into a ministerial MOU with the Bejing based firm in June but the clock is ticking on that agreement, which is due to expire next month. At that point government will be either pulling out of the talks with CHEC or signing a heads of agreement to go ahead with the plan.

Earlier this week the premier announced that the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) was issuing its final warning to Cayman to make positive steps towards cruise berthing or the islands could be seeing the end of cruise tourism business. His comments came in the wake of yet more statistical evidence that cruise arrival figures were continuing on a downward spiral. This summer visitor arrival numbers in Cayman are more than 30% down on the numbers arriving in 2010. That figure could be even worse by the year end as cruise ships bypass Cayman for the growing number of ports of call around the Caribbean that can accommodate the new class of mega ships with berthing facilities. 

Reginald ‘Choppy’ Delapenha, a local businessman involved in the tourism industry who supports the alternative Red Bay proposal and has been helping co-ordinate the campaign, told CNS that the group recognizes that government is in talks right now with CHEC and want the premier to consider placing this proposal before that firm before they sign a deal to build in George Town.

“It’s not our intention to bring another developer into the picture,” he said. “Our concerns are to see the project done as this will benefit the entire Cayman economy.  Given the considerable knowledge and expertise in our group of captains, their input in this very important project should be considered.”

He said that Captain Arlen McCoy, an internationally licensed captain of some of the world's largest ships, along with Captain Bob Soto have both made separate presentations in relation to this project going back as far as 2004 and there are now many others that share the same feeling that the best location for this project is in Red Bay.
“There are no private interests being represented here,” Delapenha said. “Our proposal to government will be for it to consider the Red Bay location over the downtown.”

The group believes that Red Bay is the best location for the cruise facility because it would create an all-weather port and has none of the disadvantages of a finger pier in George Town. Experts say that even with finger piers cruise ships will not be able to dock in the George Town Harbour during nor’esters, meaning Cayman will still require a back up at Spotts.

The captains say the Red Bay facility, which could include a mega yacht marina, could be developed simultaneously with the George Town re-urbanization project and the two could be connected by a new shuttle system.

The captains also say the Red Bay port would be significantly less expensive to build in the shallow water and the fill from the excavation would make the project financially viable. The alternative to George Town also removes the traffic bottleneck at Hurley's as it would disburse traffic.

They say the new facility would not compete with the retailers in George Town, which would be maintained as the shopping capital, but instead increase business for all as passengers would call in port on more days and taxis and bus companies would have work carrying passengers into downtown George Town.

There are, however, some serious environmental concerns as the project would be developed in a marine Replenishment Zone and it would have a significant impact on the reef, which would need to be cut. The development would also have a direct impact on the dive ‐sites in South West Point and change the character of the area completely. The captains say that these issues, as concerning as they may be, pale compared to the problems presented by the George Town project, which also has major environmental issues.

From a major increase in traffic congestion to the destruction of Cali/Balboa Wrecks, the Cheeseburger Reef and potential damage to Seven Mile Beach, the sea captains say the George Townproposal creates greater environmental and other more complex problems than the Red Bay proposal.

Added to that, the continued conflict with cargo, the limited space, the expense of construction because of the deep water and the disruption to ongoing  cargo and cruise operations during construction and life in George Town in general, Red Bay on balance is a far more feasible proposition.

So far, the premier has made no direct comment about the Red Bay alternative proposal but recently took aim at his critics regarding the slow progress towards the development of facilities. CHEC is the third proposed party that government has negotiated with, delaying the start of the development of the project.  In a statement on Monday Bush asked for the industry’s support for what he was doing as he promised to get cruise berthing facilities in the islands.

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Bush wants support not criticism on cruise berthing

Bush wants support not criticism on cruise berthing

| 25/10/2011 | 37 Comments

(CNS): The latest arrival statistics from government have revealed that cruise arrivals continued the glooming decline in August and were down by almost 32% compared to last year. The anticipated fall in numbers reflects the decision by cruise lines to by-pass the Cayman Islands and head to ports of call with cruise berthing facilities. In the face of the continued drop in cruise visitors the premier said his government was wellaware of the need to develop facilities but asked critics to point the finger at those who have opposed his efforts to develop them and not at him. With the FCCA issuing a “final chance” to construct the piers Bush asked the sector to support him.

Blaming those who have opposed the development of cruise tourism as well as the previous administration for not continuing with the agreement Bush had signed with Misner Marine when he was last in office, the premier gave no details on current the status of the ongoing talks with China Harbour Engineering Company the latest company in line to take on the project. Government signed an MOU with the Bejing based firm in June which is due to expire next month. He said that government was working hard to secure the best deal possible but did not elaborate on the negotiations.

“I have started the process and I will get it done and I ask the tourism sector to support me with encouragement, rather than criticism,” he said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “If criticism on these low cruise arrival numbers has to be properly placed, and if persons are intent on pointing fingers, they should be pointing toward those who opposed me and stopped the initiatives I put in place, which, had they been left to come to fruition, would have been up and operating at this time.”

Bush said that he recently attended the FCCA conference where the cruise line executives “very pointedly iterated” cruise berthing was essential and if the Cayman Islands doesn’t have berthing facilities in place by March 2013 it will see s drastic reduction in numbers. With cruise companies planning to use only the new generation of mega cruise ships in the Caribbean and to send the smaller ships to other parts of the world, Cayman will be excluded from the cruise business, the premier stated.

“It was clearly evident that the cruise executives were giving us a final chance and were once again warning us – as they had done several years ago – that the Cayman Islands cruise tourism industry is in jeopardy,” Bush said of his recent meeting. He said the executives were encouraged by his assurances that Cayman will have at least one pier operational by 2013 and in the meantime more talks were planned to see how arrivals could be increased before the berthing facilities are finished.

Although the cruise statistics compared very poorly to the 2010 figures with just over 79,000 visitors in August 2011 against just under 116,000 last year, the story at Owen Roberts Airport was a very different one.

Those arriving in Cayman by air and staying overnight are continuing to increase and August showed close to a 5% increase on arrival figures compared to last year with 20,017 people flying into Grand Cayman in August 2011 compared to 19,097 in August 2011. This is part of a continuing trend of growth in air arrivals with the 2011 showing a 7.7% increase so far on 2010. Canada continues to be driving the number of arrivals joined this month by Europe where there was an increase of more than 30% from both regions.

See the premier’s full statement below

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Cruising bikers spin round Cayman with cycle champ

Cruising bikers spin round Cayman with cycle champ

| 24/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Thirty eight cycling enthusiasts from Montrose, California arrived in Grand Cayman recently on the Royal Caribbean "Freedom of the Seas" to participate in a bicycle tour of the island. The bike cruise which was the first of its kind was led by Bike Magazine editor Joe Parkin and was organised to fit in scenic cycle trails at each port of call the ship made. In the Cayman Islands the visiting bikers were met by three time Olympian and well-known local cyclist Craig Merren, who accompanied the bikers on a tour along Seven Mile Beach and through West Bay, including areas such as Salt Creek, and 'Hell' before returning to the dock.

The group sailed from Fort Lauderdale and organizers confirmed that as a result of the success of this year's inaugural trip, another bike cruise is already being planned for March 2012.

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Comfort Suites to get comfier with $2million upgrade

Comfort Suites to get comfier with $2million upgrade

| 24/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Owners of the Comfort Suites on Seven Mile Beach have been working on a US$2 million upgrade to the hotel’s rooms and facilities during the slow season. The hotel started renovations to its guest rooms in August and willalso be adding a gymnasium, a private business centre and a new breakfast room in time for the winter season, according to a release. General Manager Thomas Mason said that local staff working at the hotel had been kept on in order to help with the renovations and more people had been hired than layed off during the traditional low season as aresult of the upgrade.

Mason said that 22 of the hotel's premier business rooms which overlook the swimming pool area are being done up with new fittings and new technology.

"This is just the first phase of the renovation," Mason said, explaining that phase two will start after the winter season, when all of the property's remaining rooms will be completely remodelled. "This is a very extensive renovation which speaks to our owners' commitment to both the hotel and the Cayman Islands," Mason added.

The ownership group of the hotel comprises Caymanians and Americans and it said that 90 per cent of the property's staff is Caymanian. To avoid laying people off during the upgrade Comfort Suites said it had “re-purposed them” so they have been able to help with the renovations keeping them in work during the slower summer and autumn months.

"We have actually hired people rather than laying them off, and we are happy to play our part to keep the Caymanian economy ticking during a traditionally soft season," Mason said adding that the work is due to end in early December and had been carried out with minimal disruption to guests.

"We are constantly listening to our customers and take their needs seriously … so we have responded with a great workout area, breakfast in an even more enjoyable environment and cosy rooms with every modern convenience," he said.

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Cayman gets only one ‘Oscar’ at tourism awards

Cayman gets only one ‘Oscar’ at tourism awards

| 24/10/2011 | 28 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands received just one award at this year’s World Travel Awards for the Caribbean, with the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman winning The Leading Suite. Called the Oscars of the travel industry by the Wall Street Journal, the awards were dominated by Jamaica, which was named the Caribbean’s Leading Destination for the sixth year running. Jamaica also picked up the top spot for the Caribbean’s Leading Tourist Board and the Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Destination. Cayman did not feature even as a nominee in the latter award, with Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago all nominated for the top cruise spot.

Jamaica took the top placement in a number of other categories, including the Caribbean’s Leading Beach Destination (Negril), the Caribbean’s Leading Boutique resort (Golden Eye) and the Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Port (Ocho Rios).

The World Travel Awards for the Caribbean were presented at a gala ceremony held at Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort & Private Island in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where the Ritz-Carlton Suite at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman won its award, beating off St Lucia’s Beachfront Rondoval Suites at Sandals, Diamond at Eden Rock, St Barts and Four Bedroom Villa at One&Only Ocean Club, Bahamas.

The Ritz-Carlton was also nominated for the Caribbean’s Leading Hotel Brand, but was beaten by Sandals resorts International.

St Lucia won the title of Caribbean’s Leading Honeymoon Destination, another category in which the Cayman Islands were not nominated, while Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic took the Caribbean’s Leading Resort category, beating fellow nominees Half Moon (Jamaica), Jumby Bay (Antigua), Four Seasons Resort (Nevis) and Sandy Lane (Barbados).

The Caribbean & the Americas Gala Ceremony was the final leg of World Travel Awards 2011 Grand Tour, and followed heats in Dubai, Turkey, Egypt and Thailand. The regional winners progress to the Grand Final, which takes place in Doha, Qatar, on 11 December.

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Cruise business suffers with no dock in sight

Cruise business suffers with no dock in sight

| 05/10/2011 | 64 Comments

(CNS): Not having a berthing facility for larger cruise ships has been devastating to Cayman’s tourism product, industry members have said. Recent statistics from the ESO reveal that for the first six months of this year, cruise visitors declined by 3.4% compared to 2010. The latest figures from the DoT paint an even worse picture with cruise arrivals falling by 32% in July compared to last year. Trina Christian-Savage, Executive Director with CITA says if Cayman had a berthing facility in place the country would not be in this position.  “The harsh reality is that we don't, and there is no indication that we will any time soon which is devastating to this segment of our industry,” she told CNS.

Brynley Davies of The Image Group, a company actively involved in the cruise industry with membership on Cayman’s Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism, recently attended the Seatrade Europe show, the largest cruise-related show aimed at the European market where he said it was interesting to see things from a purely cruise line perspective. 

“I met with a number of lines who all said essentially the same things about the Cayman cruise product,” he said. “Cayman needs a dock to compete in the regional marketplace and until it gets one it will not be taken seriously by the cruise industry. In addition, the constant chopping and changing of potential development partners from Decco, to GLF to the Chinese looks really bad and the cruise industry is getting very mixed signals about what is going on and what the strategy is.”

Davies explained that cruise schedules are planned two to three years out and therefore the problems the Islands are seeing now are exacerbated by the fact that Cayman have had long terms failures in developing the cruise product from different governments. By comparison, the port of Falmouth in Jamaica won the Seatrade port of the year and now has confirmed business going forward for many years.

“It is being deemed a great success story and this success is being driven by the fact that Jamaica is focusing and has focused on the development of its cruise product,” Davies said.  “They have appointed someone who is in charge of developing cruise tourism in Jamaica, William Tatham. He is responsible for interfacing with the cruise lines and getting things done within Jamaica and it is working.They have also changed the way the funds collected are distributed. It used to be that head taxes went directly to the Government. Now the taxes go to the port authority which is charged with developing this infrastructure and making it successful. This is how Falmouth was developed.”

Christian-Savage added that the Cayman Islands Tourism Association continues to reach out to government to ask where Cayman is at with this latest deal and the most recent news stated that an agreement should be finalised by November.
“What that agreement entails exactly we do not yet have the specifics of. If we cannot afford to do the plan to the full size that has been proposed by the last few developers, then private sectors has continued to suggest an option of one pier for berthing. Ultimately whatever agreement government enters into, CITA's support is contingent on the results of the EIA,” she added.

Meanwhile, the latest statistics from the ESO show that air arrivals are at least sustaining the country’s tourism product but more needs to be done the CITA spokesperson warned.  Air arrivals increased during the first half of 2011 by 8.0% but Christian-Savage said this wasn’t down to any single thing.

“I don't think we've done anything that is earth shattering different in our marketing, although the strategy and media plan remain solid. The Department of Tourism and CITA's partnership is the strongest it has been in years which enables us to act in a smarter, more efficient way when we can support each other with international promotions that align with the needs of private sector,” she said..

Christian-Savage says that since the economic downturn, hotels have been much more aggressive about their specials, which has helped to keep the demand up during these tough times. “I am still told that the average spend per visitor seems to be less though. The good news is we are starting to see less rate sensitivity from some key markets.”

Going forward, she said that the private-public partnership has continued to hone in on specific periods that have historically been soft and CITA recently met with Cayman’s national airline to discuss ways in which they can work better together. “They have opened the door to the private sector for our views on which markets we would support if additional lift were to be added,” she revealed.

Christian- Savage pointed out that the addition of Westjet significantly helped increase lift from Canada which has proved to be a great market with restaurants in particular saying the increase in Canadians was good for business

The Ritz-Carlton’s communications director agreed that the Canadian market was important as visitors had the longest length of stay and highest spend of any market for peak travel periods. “The addition of the WestJet route is a textbook example of how additional airlift from a market with latent demand directly stimulates the economy well beyond the arrival numbers,” Melissa Ladley said.

The Washington DC route, which started last year, and the Chicago flights have also benefitted the islands and Trina Savage pointed out the importance of the right gateways.  “At the end of the day the key to stay-over tourism is three things: airlift, airlift and airlift!” she said. “Once we have this in place the rest can follow.”


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Tourists offered reduced rates to help cull lionfish

Tourists offered reduced rates to help cull lionfish

| 30/09/2011 | 17 Comments

(CNS): Scuba diving visitors can now pay less for the certification and the licence to help cull the invasive red lionfish, which have become a major environmental issue in recent years. With recent approval from the Marine Conservation Board several months ago, Cayman’s dive operators are now able to teach the PADI Lionfish Tracker Distinctive Specialty course, and upon completion, guests receive the PADI c-card plus the local lionfish culling license. And now some Cayman Island dive operators are offering reduced course fees to visitors and residents this fall.

“With reduced course fees for the lionfish culling course for both residents and visitors, we hope will encourage more manpower to help us fight this invasion” comment Steve Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers in a release from the Cayman Islands Tourism Association. “We cannot totally eradicate the lionfish, but learning lessons from the Bahamas for example, if we do not keep this fish in check, our indigenous marine life will be gone. This results in a reduction of fish stock, marine life and allows corals to become covered in algae, so the health of the coral reefs is at stake and we need all hands on deck”

Currently, reduced price courses are available from Divetech, Ocean Frontiers, Deep Blue Divers, Cayman Turtle Divers, Divers Down and Dive N Stuff (at the time of release) or check with your local dive shop to inquire about the course. After your course, there are boats running from various operators every week to cull lionfish, along with the tournaments run by Ambassador Divers, so there is a lot of opportunity to use the new skills.

“Snorkelers can help too as many lion fish can be found in shallow waters just off shore and in the canals in the North Sound. This is prime breeding ground for lobsters, groupers, snappers and more, so removing lionfish from the North Sound can play a huge role in helping to cull the invasion” stated Nancy Easterbrook of Divetech. “They are tasty – a light white fish that needs a little special handling while filleting to remove the venomous spines, but well worth it. Many restaurants are now serving lionfish on a special or full time menu, so ask for lion fish when you are next out to dinner, or try it at home. Not only will this help create a market for the lionfish, but it will have the positive side effect of reducing the demand for the ‘traditional’ eating fish like conch, grouper and snapper, allowing fish stocks to grow and be sustainable.”

Rod McDowall of Red Sail Sports “We’d like to express our thanks to all of the sponsors that continue to help us in the effort to cull the lionfish. Its encouraging to see non-traditional dive industry companies and individuals come forward that are helping to make this a truly holistic effort that we hope to win, as it’s a challenge that’s day in and day out, and affectsevery one of us.”

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