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Can Cayman Islands Manage Rapid Tourism Growth?

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | May 24, 2016

Can Cayman Islands Manage Rapid Tourism Growth?

PHOTO: Rosa Harris, Cayman Islands director of tourism. (Photo by Brian Major).

A recent Cayman Islands Department of Tourism (CIDOT) analysis found the country’s rapid visitor growth threatens to negatively impact the destination’s appeal to travelers and “deter” future visitors.

The findings prompted CIDOT to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to identify a consulting firm to formulate a five-year plan to assess the country’s “capacity and potential for tourism growth,” according to a Cayman Compass report confirmed by CIDOT officials Monday.

CIDOT found “indications that the scale and nature of development” in the Cayman Islands capital of George Town and the Seven Mile Beach area are “beginning to deter tourists.”

Although the country’s most recent strategy has been to support tourism growth, the new approach under the five-year plan will be to focus on “managing growth in a sustainable way,” according to Rosa Harris, director of tourism.

READ MORE: Cayman Airways Expansion Follows 'Strategic' Plan

Harris said CIDOT had reached and surpassed its earlier goal of 300,000 annual visitors and future growth will depend on “additional room stock” meaning “we have to start asking questions about what type and level of growth we want,” she said. The sustainable tourism strategic plan resulting from the RFP process will guide the country’s tourism initiatives between 2017 and 2021, Harris added.

While the country’s arrivals growth slowed between 2014 and last year, the Cayman Islands recorded a double-digit land-based visitor increase in 2014 (up to 10.8 percent to 382,816 visitors) one year after a 7.4 percent increase (to 345,387 visitors).

Additionally, the country’s cruise ship arrivals have increased dramatically in recent years, climbing 17 percent between 2014 and 2013 (to 1,609,555 from 1,375,872). Cruise arrivals increased another 6.7 percent in 2015 to 1,716,812 passengers.   

The country’s tourism growth has promoted the Cayman Islands government to launch a renovation of Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA) as well as a controversial plan to build a new $150 million cruise ship facility.

READ MORE: Cayman Islands Expanding Tourist Infrastructure Amid Growing Visitor Arrivals

Cayman Islands developer Dart Realty’s recent agreement to purchase the former Grand Cayman Hyatt Britannia Resort will provide much-needed hotel inventory to the destination. The company is also building the Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa, a 266-room property expected to open this fall.

A five-star property is also under development in the Cayman Islands’ Bodden Town district. Still, Harris said major resort development is unlikely in the Cayman Islands and “boutique hotels” of 100 rooms or fewer “offer the best potential” for additional hospitality growth in the country.

“We need our own vision for the type of development we want to encourage,” said Harris. “We have to go about our development in a planned way, not to deter opportunity but make sure what we are doing is best for the country.”

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