Numbers and News from the Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands is on a roll, with visitors numbers up, new hotel product coming on line, summer promotions for kids and a romance campaign set to target the couples market.
“I’m happy with our performance, our growth, our air access, our partnerships and our partners, but we’re not letting up,” said Rosa Harris, director of tourism. “We must remain engaged and focused, especially with our travel agents and tour operators.”
Stay over visitors in 2017 topped 418,000, up 8.5% over 2016, with the U.S. accounting for 80% of the market.
That momentum continued into 2018, with January arrivals up 23% and February up 2.5% over the same months a year earlier.
Helping account for the arrivals’ jump is the destination’s easy access. Harris said there was capacity growth on American, Cayman Airways, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United from key U.S. travel hubs.
The Owen Roberts Airport, currently in the midst of a $67 million expansion project that is slated to be completed by December, will double the size of the facility and will be able to accommodate close to 2.5 million passengers when done.
Cruise arrivals, which totalled 1.7 million passengers in 2017, benefitted from the diversion of ships to the western Caribbean in Q4 after the hurricanes.
“We’re seeing a healthy growth in the number of land tours booked by cruisers and an increase in the number of taxi permits, because drivers now have the passenger loads to support the business,” Harris said.
She said that the dispatch process for passengers disembarking at the pier are now well managed, as are the queues for passenger pickups and the traffic flow in George Town.
Although the cruise port in Grand Cayman remains a tender-only port, plans for a major cruise port redevelopment project are ongoing.
“The design and finance processes are lengthy but are in the works,” she said.
On the issue of hotel development, Harris reported on several new developments, including a still as yet unnamed and unbranded boutique hotel under 100 rooms near George Town on a small cove, not on the famous Seven Mile Beach. The property could open between the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020.
“We’re seeing a shift from larger developments to smaller properties and ones that celebrate the natural environment,” she said.
The new Grand Hyatt will sit on a seven-acre beachfront site, a mile from George Town and a 10-minute drive from the airport.
The Residences portion of the Grand Hyatt will feature 167 studio suites and one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences, slated for completion in December 2020. A rental program for the residences will enable participating owners to place their units in the hotel inventory.
Grand Cayman has a total of 6,300 guest rooms in short-term rentals, condominiums, villas, hotels and guesthouses.
In terms of alternate accommodations, the Cayman Islands signed with Airbnb five years ago, allowing entrepreneurs to open the cottage and villa industry for guests.
More recently, Airbnb signed an agreement with the Cayman Islands on March 30 that focuses on destination promotions and aims to create more opportunities for licensed Caymanians to become “a thriving part of our overall tourism product, without a huge expense,” according to Harris.
There are currently 470 listings on the Airbnb platform on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
New this summer will be a promotion targeting foodie families traveling to the destination.
The Kids Culinary Capital of the Caribbean program invites kids to sharpen their cooking skills at interactive culinary activities and educational classes. Some of the activities include Bon Vivant in Camana Bay, which offers hands-on cooking classes for kids 12 and under. Classes include cooking alongside a Caymanian chef, lunch, recipe cards and a tour of the Camana Bay restaurant kitchen, for $42.
The Chef de Cuisine and head gardner at The Brasserie offers free farm tours of the restaurant’s organic vegetable garden, and kids will witness how the catch of the day makes it to dinner plates and will help collect eggs from the on-site chicken coops.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and the Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman also offer epicurean adventures for kids this summer.
Although the Cayman Islands is known for luxury travel and family vacations, “we really had not focused on the romance and couples market until recently,” according to Harris.
To remedy that, the destination partnered in 2017 with Grace Byers, star of the Fox series “Empire,” to shine a light on the Caymans as a romantic vacation destination through a print, online and digital campaign running through September. The campaign follows Byers and her costar husband Trai Byers as they explore Cayman’s romantic offerings, from snorkeling sites to restaurants, as sites to host a special anniversary, occasion or wedding.