Hon. Deputy Premier Chris Saunders foresees tourism playing an even bigger role in Cayman’s economy possibly in the next decade or so, and he wants the industry to be positioned to assume that role.
The sector is currently regarded as the second pillar of the Cayman economy behind financial services.
However, Mr Saunders cautions that the continuing challenges to financial; services due mainly to pressure from external agencies could result in less revenue from the government from that industry.
In an impromptu address to members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA) at their recent mid-year board meeting, Mr Saunders who is Minister for Finance, Economic Development and Labour, said tourism needs to be positioned and supported to take the lead role in the economy going forward.
“We got to accept that financial services has constantly been under attack for decades. It’s just a matter of time before something’s going to happen. And the only industry we’re gonna have is going to be tourism where in the next 10 to 15 years it is going to be the pillar of this economy.”
Considering that prospect, the economy minister is calling for more dynamism from the tourism sector
“We can’t wait 10 to 15 years when things go south to start building tourism. We need to start laying the groundwork from now...because this is the second pillar of our industry today and in the next 10 years it’s going to be the number one pillar whether you want to accept it or not,” he told the CITA board members.
“We need to put the work in today to make sure that we position it for tomorrow.”
Mr Saunders is calling for the Cayman tourism sector to be more competitive especially with the challenges it faces from other regional destinations.
“One of the things that makes it challenging for us to compete with other countries is that for those countries, tourism is their bread and butter. I mean, when you see Jamaica and Mexico and all different places fight for tourism, it is because they need US dollars. So they can buy oil, they can buy food, fuel, they can buy food. For them, tourism is the only way of life.”
Also present as a guest at the meeting was the Hon. Minister for Tourism Kenneth Bryan, credited by Mr Saunders as being the best person to drive tourism forward and secure its place of tourism as the future main pillar of Cayman’s economy.
“In my opinion, and it’s just my opinion back then while I was an opposition, what I saw missing from tourism was a certain hunger was a certain drive by the government. And the fact that financial services did so well that tourism normally took a backseat to financial services. And we wanted a minister that was young, hungry and driven. And I can tell you, in Caucus he takes on the entire room.”
For his part, Mr Saunders assured the CITA officials of his commitment to ensuring that government support is in place to underpin the economically vital industry.
“It’s important for us that this foundation is laid. Whatever investment we need, I don’t look at spending more money on tourism as an expense. We see it as an investment,” he said, pointing to spinoff benefits to other economic sectors from a vibrant tourism industry.
“I can tell you, even though the numbers aren’t there, what tourism brings to the economy in terms of our livelihood and our ability to link, what we don’t realise that is when people come and visit and the see other things, it also drives me over financial services industry too,” he explained.
“So it’s important for us to make the necessary investment now, but one of the things that we can’t do is maintain the same mindset where we see this as being secondary. This has got to be something primary,” Mr Saunders said noting the global status of the tourism industry.
“At the end of the day, it is still the biggest industry that creates the most entrepreneurs globally worldwide. So from an economic standpoint, I want to give the assurance that wherever I can support Minister Bryan especially if finances are concerned, you will get support from me, so you don’t have to worry about that.”