By Lindsey Turnbull
In her ‘Anatomy of a tourism success story’ written by Barbara Currie Maguire in the May 1981 Nor’wester magazine, Ms Maguire says “during the past five years, the Cayman Islands has emerged as the Caribbean’s fastest-growing tourism destination.”
This was the opinion of Mr Luther Miller of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Research Centre, who had visited the Cayman Islands earlier that year as part of a regional study on the overall profile of North American Tourists.
In the Eighties, the friendliness of the people, the stability of the government and the sound economy, coupled with proximity to mainland US and business opportunities that were rapidly growing were all considered reasons for Cayman’s superior growth in its tourism product, according to Miller. However, he warned that territories in the Caribbean had offerings which duplicated themselves, such as the spectacular beaches and turquoise seas. He ventured that they needed a product in order to attract visitors, and Cayman clearly had already established itself as a tourism destination because the number of repeat visitors it already attracted, proving that theory, he said.
Integral to the development of the tourism product were planning, promotion, and monitory of the industry and they formed the basis for a continued success story, he felt. Cayman’s Tourist Board and then Department of Tourism (evolving as a result of the 1974 Tourism Law) were created to do just that. This law provided for a Tourism Advisory Council and a Hotel Licensing Board, all of which created the background for a quickly-developing tourism industry. The island also benefitted from a growing number of daily international flights bringing visitors into Cayman from all over the US via various hubs connected directly to Cayman.
Tourism statistics from four decades ago provide further evidence for the phenomenal growth in tourism in the Cayman Islands. By 1980 there were 120,241 visitors arriving by air and 60,873 visitors arriving by cruise ship for a combined total of 181,110 that year.
In 1986 the DoT started promoting the Cayman Islands on US TV with the tagline, ‘Our people are our best asset’. In that year Grand Cayman also saw the opening of two important hotels: the Hyatt Regency and Treasure Island Resorts. These two moves proved significant because just one year later air arrivals increased by 26 per cent, the largest single increase year-on-year for a decade.
At the turn of the century, Cayman’s tourism product dramatically unfolded, aided with the opening of some luxury resorts, such as the Westin opening in December 1995, adding hundreds more guest rooms to the tourism offering. The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s opening was delayed by the onset of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, eventually opening in early 2006, bringing a five-star luxury resort into Cayman’s tourism mix.
2001 saw the formation of the Cayman Island Tourism Association, a non-profit association representing all aspects of tourism-related business. It was formed through an amalgamation of the Cayman Tourism Alliance and the Cayman Islands Hotel and Condominium Association.
In 2005, possibly one of the most significant moves in Cayman’s recent development took place – breaking ground at Camana Bay. The first tenants to anchor their space at Camana Bay were the movie theatre, Books & Books and Café del Sol (now Starbucks), immediately providing visitors to the newly developing town with plenty of reasons to visit. Offices quickly followed, as did restaurants, residences and retail outlets, rapidly creating a centre point not only for visitors but a place for locals to enjoy as well. In 2010 Camana Bay won the Governor’s Award, its innovation and sustainability being recognised at the first annual Governor’s Award for Design and Construction Excellence.
In 2016 Cayman upped its hotel offering again, with the opening of the Kimpton Seafire in November of that year. The opening marked the boutique hotel company’s first move into the international luxury resort market and Cayman’s first new hotel in more than a decade.
Statistics highlight the increasing numbers of visitors looking to enjoy Cayman as their holiday destination over the most recent decade: in 1996 Cayman saw 373,200 air arrivals from visitors. That figure leapt to 418,400 in 2017. But Cayman has also seen significant numbers of cruise ship passengers interested in making Cayman part of their vacation itinerary. In 1996 there were 800,300 cruise ship visitors to Cayman’s shores and in 2017 that figure was 1,728,400. Today, the question as to whether to expand Cayman’s cruise ship offering by developing a new port to accommodate larger cruise ships is a hot topic of discussion for the country.
The success of Cayman as a tourism destination shows no signs of faltering, with air arrivals almost topping half a million last year and almost two million cruise visitors, making 2018 a record-breaking year. Increasing arrival numbers for 2019 show no signs of abating either, and, with two new resorts scheduled to begin construction in the coming months, the Hilton and the Grand Hyatt, Cayman seems poised to continue this growth well into the new decade.