Premier McLaughlin again stated at last week’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon that no public money will be used to build the proposed cruise berthing facilities. This statement may be technically correct, however it is misleading. Taking into consideration the accounting principle, substance over form, while public money might not be allocated to pay for the facility up front i.e. the initial capital, the cost is actually a loan to Cayman which will be repaid to one or more private companies, in the future from port, or other, as determined by the government, receipts out of future public money.
The Premier refers to the cruise lines building bigger and bigger ships, again, correct but misleading. The cruise lines are building a few bigger ships, however, as supported by the cruise industry order book for new vessels, the majority (69%) of new ships on order between 2019 and 2027 are for the smaller vessels with passenger capacity under 4,000, all of which can tender. The largest class ships with passenger capacity over 6,000 represent 9% of new ships on order during this period . The cruise industry recognizes there is a limited market for the novelty new larger ships, and publicly available industry reviews indicate cruise visitors prefer the smaller vessels, notably under 3,000 passengers. Further, of the announced destinations for the 28 ships on order with passenger capacity of over 5,000, only one is scheduled to sail the Caribbean, in contrast with 6 to sail in China, and 5 to sail in Europe and Asia.
Innovate or die like Kodak
We do need to innovate, but it is wrong to think that bigger is better, that multiple millions of cruise visitors and more of the same for more crowds is the way to go, where is the innovation in that?
What we actually need to do is protect our cruise tourism by enhancing our offering, improve the experience of our current visitors and make ourselves a distinct and unique destination, stand out from the crowd. And we can do this without incurring hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to the cruise lines and losing control of our cargo and cruise port.
If one of Cayman’s tourism industry goals remains to convert cruise visitors to stayover visitors, we need to improve our offering with a focus on quality of experience rather than downgrading it through overcrowding.
The Premier saying that ‘the developers will do their best to keep the environmental impact to a minimum’, is of little comfort to anyone who has even a basic understanding of the Environmental Impact Assessment report and/or understands the nature of the limitations clearly stated in the report. At the moment George Town harbour and its surrounding is enviable, with clear waters and beautiful Caribbean sand, full of snorkelers, swimmers, glass bottom boats and submarines. All of this will disappear from dredging during construction and under the silt from bow thrusters and fuel pollution from huge ships at permanent, dockside berths. A high cost for current and future Caymanians to pay in terms of lost ecosystem services, loss of cultural and historic ship wrecks, loss of scenic coastline, and lost tourism revenue for the businesses currently operating there.
Massive economic gains, increased employment and business opportunities
So many construction jobs and business opportunities, but for whom?
The Government have failed to disclose the type of new job opportunities that they claim will be made available, how they have evaluated the economic benefits and are reluctant to share with the public the business opportunities.
$245 million economic benefits? An interesting figure, where does this come from and more importantly who does it go to? Given that the cost of the project has been projected to exceed US$250 million and we know that this will rise again (and again), most likely to well over US$300 million, where’s the economic benefit in that?
To use the words of our Premier:
This comes down to a question of judgement – do the economic and environmental costs outweigh the benefits? This should be a question asked to the Citizens of this country, whose children and grandchildren will be the ones most impacted. In an informed democracy, the government should enact the will of the people.