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Opinions & Editorial 25 Oct, 2022 Follow News


Can Cayman afford fewer cruise ship calls?

The announcement from Hon. Min. for Tourism Kenneth Bryan that several major cruise lines will start reducing their calls to Cayman is cause for concern - and even worry we daresay.

The reason given is the lack of walk-on/walk-off berthing - or a cruise pier - as cruise lines start introducing more mega-ships in their fleets which they argue make ferrying passengers from ship to shore via tender impractical at best, and for the profit-obsessed cruise business, costly at worst.

For Cayman, this has been estimated as cutting the number of cruise ship calls here by around half over the next two years.

The economic impact could be even greater.

There are several important factors to consider; among them, reopening the debate about a cruise pier…or more precisely, where it is located.

The controversial cruise pier proposal is well-documented and has, up to now been buried under a sea of protests, sunk by a referendum and drowned under a successful legal challenge.

But while that issue was about a choice between the convenience of a cruise pier at a particular location, versus preserving a treasured and delicate marine resource, an alternative site did not feature in that debate.

Other sites have been considered in previous iterations of the cruise pier idea although they seem to have sunk without a trace.

With the business and economic implications of not having a cruise pier now being made quite stark, we ask: Is it time to revisit the debate about the viability of a cruise pier in Cayman?

What’s interesting in the news about the reduction in cruise ship calls, is that this is not a policy decision taken by Cayman, say on environmental grounds.

It’s by the cruise lines in their own business interest.

The cruise ships that will cut back their visits here will go elsewhere. And they will argue that there’s no shortage of destinations ready, willing and able to welcome them with their purpose-built cruise piers.

Can Cayman afford to lose so many cruises, or are we at saturation point given the concerns about midtown traffic meltdown and visitor-attraction congestion on cruise ship days? There’s also the revolving debate about visitor-spend, and if it’s all really worth adding a cruise pier to the mix allowing even more passengers to disembark ship.

This announced cutback in cruise calls will hit many small businesses, especially tour bus operators and activity sites. It will also impact the wider government budget.

Cayman’s continuing attraction as a preferred vacation destination is evidenced in the rosy outlook for stayover tourism this season coming out of the economic downturn.

Despite the argument that compared to stayover visitors, much of what a  cruise visitor spends onshore of their vacation budget is already predetermined by their onboard expenses and pre-booked excursions, there are onshore businesses which directly benefit even if it’s from ‘spontaneous spend’. Cumulatively, those add up.

As Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett has said: “Immediately as the ship docks, the dollar flows into the hands of the ordinary man and that’s the power I think of cruise tourism. It does provide, I believe, the fastest way of transferring wealth, because the jobs that are required are pretty much basic and that’s important. It touches the lives of the ordinary person and that’s critical in terms of wellbeing, especially of small communities.”

Cruise ships will continue to come to Cayman but the reduction in visits will more than ripple through the economy. The impact might not be a tsunami, but the effect with cause waves of worry for many.

Is a cruise pier here - somewhere - a viable prospect…or has that ship already sailed?

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