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Then & Now: Early twentieth century tourist spot

As a continuation of this popular series, we thought we would explore one of Cayman’s most important economic drivers, that of the tourism industry. Because this is such a big topic, we have split the article into three parts and this first article looks at how the concept of a tourism industry first began to gather momentum just less than a century ago.

 

By Beth Turnbull

 

According to an article in the Nor’Wester from March 1980, 1929 saw the arrival of the first known tourist in the Cayman Islands. At age 25, Welshman Leslie Powell and his friend Jack Self were on their first tour of duty with Barclays Bank in Jamaica. They boldly asked management for a two-week vacation and set sail onboard the Cimboco ship headed for the Cayman Islands. The article records how Powell remembers “a vivid impression of scores of white butterflies greeting us.”

He continued: “In Grand Cayman we received much kindness and hospitality. We swam at West Bay and hiked to the North Sound and out on the Bodden Town road. ...It was a wonderful experience…”

It wasn’t until a few years later, however, that people started noticing the Cayman Islands’ potential as a tourist destination. Sometime between 1934 and 1941 it is documented that Commissioner Cardinall never ceased telling people that, “Grand Cayman has what is probably the most perfect bathing-beach in the West Indies,” as stated in the Who’s Who Business Guide 1991.

The Annual Colonial Reports record 1937 as the year that saw the beginning of the tourism industry, no doubt spurred on by the success of the visit by the Atlantis of the Royal Main Lines Limited, whereby 343 tourists embarked in George Town for the day in February 1397. Before the end of that year, it was reported that a second ship, the Arandora Star of the Blue Star Line, visited Cayman in February of the following year. The Annual Report also documents the greater number than usual of yachts visiting in 1937, as well as a larger number of visitors compared with previous years. Thus, the tourism industry was showing signs of early growth.

In 1952 the first hotel in the Cayman Islands, the Bay View Hotel, was built as recorded in Beautiful Isle Cayman. The Annual Colonial Reports record eight hotels on Grand Cayman and one on Cayman Brac by 1960. In total, these hotels offered less than 300 beds, however the report predicts this number would rapidly increase due to the number of hotels in the planning stage. The Bay View Hotel offered the lowest winter rates at around £3 per day for a single room. Other hotels, such as the Beach Club and Colony and the Galleon Beach Hotel, charged £7 and £8 respectively per day. The 1960 Colonial Report mentions the attractions of the Islands including the “bathing beaches, the incomparably clear water and weather”.

But there was little by way of tourism infrastructure to tempt visitors other than these attractive natural elements. In addition to hotels there were a few boarding houses and cottages available for rent. Until this point, Little Cayman was seldom visited by tourists, however 1960 also saw the beginning of Little Cayman’s development. A group of Americans acquired land on the beach and began the construction of accommodation for fishermen.

By the end of 1965 the tourism industry had become an important factor in the economy of the Cayman Islands, which will be discussed further in our next article.

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