The Cayman Islands is experiencing record tourism figures for the fifth consecutive year which is welcome news for everyone connected to the industry. Tourism numbers for 2018 continue to out-pace all corresponding records for 2017.
This is partly through its burgeoning reputation as one of the Caribbean’s finest places for a vacation excellence and because of the devastating hurricanes in the Eastern Caribbean last year which makes Cayman an ideal alternative. Cayman has gained from the demise of places like Puerto Rico, Dominica, British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, St Kitts & Nevis and Dominican Republic that are still rebuilding after the passing of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Visitor numbers, both at the airport and the cruise terminals, continue to rise in Cayman. Although the arrival of 39,057 visitors in April was just a 0.33 percent increase on April last year, it still marked the thirteenth consecutive month of increased numbers. April also saw a significant increase of more than 21 percent in cruise passenger numbers, with 151,716 passengers packing into George Town.
Although the hurricane season has just started and this time of year is traditionally slow season, Minister of Tourism Moses Kirkconnell remains upbeat. He said: “Outstanding performance for the Cayman Islands does not mean that we can sit back or minimise our efforts. So, I am committed to supporting our local stakeholders to position the Cayman Islands as the destination of choice. I am optimistic that we will see sustained growth in the months to come.”
There was a 15 percent increase in visitor arrivals in the first four months of 2018. Mr Kirkconnell said 23,000 additional visitors had brought $29 million in extra local spending compared with the same period last year. Stingray City visits remain the most popular attraction as well as trips to Rum Point, Seven Mile Beach, diving experiences and sightseeing tours.
Moderate growth was recorded for passengers from the United States; a total rise of 2.3 percent whereas Canada arrivals increased by 5.59 percent, an addition of over 126 passengers in April.
Local hoteliers are pleasantly surprised at occupancy increases of around 20 percent so far this year. It is down to a combination of effective marketing, the hurricane effect in the Eastern Caribbean, upgrades in hotels such as The Westin. The opening of the Margaritaville Beach Resort and Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa also boosts numbers too.
The Department of Tourism says strong performance is expected to continue through 2018 as flight routes open in the Cayman Islands including a new JetBlue route through Fort Lauderdale starting in October. There are additional flights to New York and a seasonal service from Boston scheduled.
Southwest Airlines has expanded its service to include direct flights from Houston with weekly scheduled flights on Saturdays starting this weekend. American Airlines will add seasonal flights from Chicago starting this winter. The weekly Saturday flights will begin on 22 December until April next year.
In anticipation of an active hurricane season, Cayman has launched its annual ‘Worry Free Hurricane Guarantee’ to put travellers' minds at ease, knowing they can book a trip here and receive cancellation coverage in the event of a storm. The Tourism Board believes this will boost numbers as tourists will have more peace of mind.
The guarantee includes a full refund of accommodation fees at participating hotels, condos and villas island-wide, with a maximum one-night penalty at most for cancellations made up to 48 hours prior to check-in as soon as a hurricane watch is issued by authorities. Additionally, many properties on-island are offering a free replacement stay throughout the summer months, allowing guests to rebook for the same duration as the initially-booked stay, regardless of how many days were affected by a hurricane or storm.
"In the Cayman Islands, we strive to not only provide unforgettable and relaxing vacations, but most importantly through this generous programme, we offer our guests a seamless solution for when travel disruptions occur," said Rosa Harris, Director of Tourism for the Cayman Islands. "It's Caymankind to give peace of mind, and with our Hurricane Guarantee, I am pleased we can provide travellers relief knowing they can plan a vacation to our beautiful islands despite seasonal considerations and inclement weather."
There are many reasons for tourists to visit Cayman for the rest of 2018. The Flowers Sea Swim on June 16 is the most immediate. It is the world’s richest sea swim with over $100,000 in giveaways. Olympic and world champions alike are attracted to win the considerable prize money. Over 1,000 participate, many of whom are international visitors.
The annual Pirates Week Festival is a winner in November. The week-long event commemorates Cayman’s pirate heritage. Events include fireworks, parades, stage shows and a pirate raid.
Another great November event is the Cayman Culinary Society Competition where top chefs compete on Seven Mile Beach to become the chef of the year. This is also a bartending competition and ice carving competition.
Anyone who is an avid road runner loves the Cayman Islands Marathon despite the intense heat in the latter stages. Wonderful themed water stations along the route gives runners a lift in December. There is also a half-marathon, and a children's fun run.