By Christopher Tobutt
Cayman’s continuing recovery and the way forward for tourism were on the agenda at the Cayman Islands Tourism Association AGM at the Marriott, on Thursday 20 October. Speakers included Minister of Tourism Hon. Kenneth Bryan MP, Director of Tourism Rosa Harris, and outgoing President Marc Langevin.
Ms. Harris’ presentation focused on air travel and stayover tourism’s bounce-back from the pandemic, which by all accounts was going better than expected. In just under a year since Cayman’s borders opened last November international and regional airlines had been gradually resuming business-as-usual, and 2022’s exceeding the self-imposed target of 40 percent of the 2019 figures. “We’ve been on a great trajectory for the last nine months,” Ms. Harris said. “But it was only at the end of August this year that all Covid travel restrictions finally ended, and since then things have been moving ahead very fast.”
Everyone was looking forward to the grand opening of Cayman’s new LAX route on 5 November, which is set to bring in many new markets from Australia, South East Asia and the whole of the American West Coast.
Most of the main American markets are either back on track, or better than they were before, apart from the Midwest, Ms. Harris said, which is still lagging behind and some of the “gateways did not return.” All the big American carriers are back, with some new ones on the horizon, such as Sun Country which will soon have their inaugural flight. Another exciting possibility was attracting daily flights from Emirates airlines.
Miss Harris said that the department had been exploring new, kinds of business in discussions with airlines and other business partners. A recent international ‘travel sentiment’ study had revealed what is motivating people to see new places. A big new sector is the growing group of laptop workers, people not tethered to a conventional office who will look for nice places to travel to while they work. Of course, for these people really good, fast, and reliable Wifi connectivity is a must, Ms. Harris said. Expedia was by far the biggest online travel agent, “If we want to move the needle we have to do business with them,” Ms. Harris said.
Research had shown that people were looking for places to escape the pressures of reality, too, and Ms. Harris showed three beautiful videos from new “Dream in Cayman,” promotional campaign. Each of the videos takes facts about Cayman and turns them into spectacular dreamscapes. The Bioluminescence showed a beautiful woman in a long flowing purple dress, her boat silently cutting through sea leaving a wake of purple light. Next came a dream of Starfish Point, with a woman and her child, only the starfish were found in the sky instead of the sea. Finally a man reclined in a catboat, being pulled along by beautiful birds, each one with a chord in its beak. The new campaign will be shown in all the different markets, forming a strong unified brand personality.
Minister Bryan said that, while cruise tourism was expected to fall, air passengers were expected to increase in numbers, and congestion at Owen Roberts International Airport would soon need to be addressed. While the recent upgrade to the airport had been expected to be good for at least a decade, decade “We have become victims of our own success,” he said, “and are starting to see passenger congestion building up at peak travel times.” He said that he has been in contact with the Airport Authority to make arrival and departure smoother and more efficient. This was important, he said, because it represented, “the first and last impression that people have.” He also spoke about the need to house tourism workers in the face of rising rents.
Outgoing CITA President, Marc Langevin said it was important for CITA to help close the ‘employment gap’ caused by covid. “Don’t let customers leave our destination with a sour taste in their mouth,” he said. He spoke of the need both for affordable accommodation for workers, along with a more efficient public transport system that could get them to and from work at night or early in the morning, “Because we are not a 9 to 5 job,” he said. Urgent action also needed to be taken to address environmental challenges such as the ongoing Sargassum seaweed problem, and coral bleaching, “Or our tourism product would erode.”