Last updated: 09:21 PM ET, Fri July 22 2016

Cayman Islands Cruise Port Plan Advances as Arrivals Continue Surge

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | July 22, 2016

Cayman Islands Cruise Port Plan Advances as Arrivals Continue Surge

Image: Moses Kirkconnell, the Cayman Islands’ minister of tourism. (Photo courtesy of Cayman Islands Department of Tourism).

Just as first-half 2016 data reports a surge in Cayman Islands cruise ship arrivals, the Caribbean island’s government this week took a significant step in its multi-million dollar plan to construct a modern cruise pier and terminal.

The government’s Central Tenders Committee, which is overseeing the earlier approved cruise pier project, announced Wednesday it has hired international engineering firm Royal Haskoning DHV to provide consultant services for the project, planned for the harbor of George Town, Grand Cayman, the nation’s capital city.

The Dutch engineering firm “will assist with determining the cost of the piers to achieve the least possible environmental impact,” according to a Ministry of Tourism & Transport statement issued Thursday.

The government recently revised its original pier proposals following the October green-lighting of the project. The plan now calls for building the piers in deeper water, which officials say would require less dredging and reduce the project’s impact on the environment.

“The next stage in the process is to determine the performance standards and specifications of construction,” the statement adds. “The design works to be completed will better inform the costs of the project and this is expected to be known early in the fourth quarter of the year.”

The project had been estimated to cost $150 million, but in a briefing with local media, Moses Kirkconnell, the Cayman Islands’ tourism minister, said the projected price tag will likely range between $150 and $190 million. He said the government is working with major cruise lines to design a “financial model” for the project and says discussions with cruise operators have been “very positive.”

“Once the civil engineering design works are completed and the detailed estimated cost to construct the piers is known,” said Kirkconnell, “the Ministry will be in a better position to negotiate the best possible financing model with cruise lines.”

He added, “Our goal is to arrive at a formula in partnership with cruise lines that will not only fund construction of the piers, but will ensure that they are owned by the people of the Cayman Islands.”

The latest developments come as Cayman Islands cruise ship traffic continues its explosive growth of recent years. The country hosted 973,305 cruise ship visitors in the first six months of 2016, a 60,000-passenger increase over the same period in 2015.

Last year the Cayman Islands was one of only seven Caribbean nations to host more than one million cruise ship visitors despite being the only country among the group to lack a modern cruise pier and port facility.

Kirkconnell also noted Cayman Islands air arrivals fell slightly in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015, during which the destination posted record airline visitor arrivals. In all 210,490 visitors arrived in Cayman by air in the first six months of 2016, compared with 213,493 visitors during the same period in 2015.

The U.S. remains the Cayman Islands’ chief source market, accounting for 80.1 percent of arrivals, followed by Europe at 6.93 percent and Canada at 6.69 percent.

Tourism officials at the gathering cited Zika virus fears, Canada’s struggling economy, terrorist events in Europe and Grand Cayman’s constrained hotel capacity as potential reasons behind the 1.41 percent first-half drop. The Zika virus remains a concern Cayman tourism officials are seeking to mitigate.

“We know that we are very attractive to the couples market,” said Rosa Harris, director of tourism, in a Cayman News Service report. “And for those that are in the phase of their lives that are having families, [Zika] directly impacts that group.”

Still Kirkconnell noted Cayman Islands Department of Tourism research found average daily room rate data from leading hotels suggest the fewer visitors were collectively spending more money than last year.

Kirkconnell is “optimistic” about the current tourism season and said the November opening of the Kimpton Seafire Resort would boost overnight, land-based arrivals.

At the briefing, Kirkconnell added that the government’s expansion of Owen Roberts International Airport expansion project remains “on budget and on schedule,” with the project in the $42.5 million second phase, which includes renovation and expansion of the arrival area, departure lounge, and check-in lobby.

The project is slated for completion in 2018.

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