By Staff Writer
With Cayman being positioned as a top medical tourism destination, Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin says this reflects a strategy of his People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) - led administration to diversify the tourism industry by reducing cruise tourism.
He made the disclosure during a press conference on Tuesday announcing the site selection for the new Aster Cayman Med City.
Work on the new facility, to be built in West Bay, is expected to start by June and will be completed in phases by late 2022 or early 2023.
It’s the second major medical tourism project announced in the Cayman Islands recently - the other being the expansion of Health City Cayman unveiled last week.
Asked by Caymanin Times publisher Ralph Lewis if this represents developing the medical tourism sector at a faster pace than the other tourism sectors, Premier McLaughlin explained that was a definite strategy being pursued by his government.
He also disclosed that it will form part of their election manifesto.
“This is a conscious effort and policy of the government to as part of its overall effort to diversify the economy and to make our economy less vulnerable to external shocks,” Mr Laughlin disclosed, citing the ongoing experience of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We're trying to diversify the whole tourism industry,” he added stating there will be less emphasis on cruise tourism going forward, although he was quick to point out that cruise tourism will be abandoned, just made less of a priority.
To that end, any plans for a cruise pier are now off the agenda.
“What I foresee certainly if we retain the government,” the Premier said referring to the snap election he has called for April 14th, “is less focus on growing cruise tourism.”
“I think we have a very clear signal from just about every source that the great numbers since the cruise industry began is that we can survive without those large numbers and we need more balance and we need to not overwhelm if the system with the sheer volume of people.”
Looking at the experience of the pandemic and its economic impact in the context of a silver lining, the Premier said: “Having had to do without cruise tourism for a year, I think has told us what the consequences of that is.”
Mr McLaughlin acknowledged that “obviously you still have significant numbers of our people who are unemployed or underemployed because that was their focus was.”
And he said that the government is continuing efforts to find ways “to give them the opportunities they had or better of making a living.”
“But I think it is clear from the business community and from the local people is that we don't want to go back to the large number of visitors,” he said.
Drawing a line under the controversial cruise pier project which he had championed, Mr McLaughlin said, “I think that that also is probably the only logical position that any government can come to.
"If we are not going to go ahead with the construction of a cruise parking facility, we simply cannot accommodate the number of visitors that we previously had in a way that that they are willing or that the cruise companies are willing to accept.”
He confirmed that the cruise pier will not be included in their manifesto with their clearest indication that the Unity Government will be running a joint campaign of the PPM and its coalition partners.
“We have certainly taken the position that we are not proceeding with a cruise berthing facility as part of our manifesto and the coalition manifesto for the upcoming elections,” the Premier declared.
With elections coming on April 14th Caymanian Times asked the Premier if he expected an incoming government embrace the medical tourism project as a strategy of diversifying the economy to help Cayman to progress.
Mr McLaughlin responded by stating: “Certainly any sensible government will.”
He reminded that the original Health City project was conceived under the previous United Democratic Party(UDP) administration.
“One of the first things that I did as Premier was to open that facility. So the government is a continuum and any sensible government will continue to embrace good projects and good policies that were and build on them rather than pushing them aside and starting over every time he government changes.”
And looking at insight into how the April 14th election might turn out, Mr McLaughlin offered that he is “increasingly optimistic that we won't have those sports of considerations following this election.”