Based on statistics and collected data, the outlook for the future of the tourism industry in the Cayman Islands continues to be on an upward swing.
2020 was shaping up to be another record year as stayover tourism numbers for Cayman continued to climb. January and February of 2020 saw the highest monthly stayover guests of all time with 42,851 and 50,707 visitors respectively. However, the season was cut short on March 22nd 2020 with the closure of the Owen Roberts International Airport due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The airport remains closed until further notice with the hopes to welcome visitors back to the Islands closer to Christmas. As of May 5th 2020, Little Cayman have been classed as COVID-19 free and their lockdown restrictions have been lifted. All residents of Cayman Brac are in the process of being tested and so far (May 8th) no cases of COVID-19 have been found and their restrictions are beginning to be lifted. Both islands however are closed to outside residents unless they can prove that they have been in isolation for 14 days and have then been tested and got a negative result.
Construction on new developments has been on hold for the past 6 weeks (up until May 8th 2020 and counting) but we have been reassured that construction workers may be allowed to resume work in the next few weeks.
In 2019 the Cayman Islands welcomed 2,333,750 visitors to their shores. This constituted a minimal 5% decrease in comparison to 2018’s record breaking 2,384,068 visitors. The 502,739 stayover visitors represented a 10% increase and 1,831,011 cruise ship visitors resulted in a 6% decrease in that category. Cruise ship numbers experienced a marginal dip in 2019, decreasing by 5% from 2018. This change in numbers might be explained as diverted cruise ships from 2017’s hurricane Irma returning to their regular routes.
The number of visitors hailing from the United States comprises the largest visiting demographic seeing a 10.5% increase of tourists in 2019 with New York and Texas the most popular visiting states. However, arrivals from Canada have been steadily climbing and there was a 16.5% increase in visitors over 2019. It is not surprising that the government continues to push the CaymanKind brand in major cities around the world as nearly 80 percent of stay over visitors that travel to the Island, come for recreational purposes such as swimming at Seven Mile Beach and diving.
The recent expansion of the Owen Roberts International Airport was completed in March of 2019. The extended and increased services provided by various airlines can be partially accredited to the rise in stayover tourism. A new airline, Caribbean Airlines founded in 2017 added Owen Roberts International Airport as it’s 22nd destination serviced in the end of 2019. The Trinidad based Caribbean carrier first added a route to Kingston, Jamaica followed by various routes to Barbados, Grenada, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the Caribbean. Additionally, Air Canada expanded service from Toronto while Cayman Airways added a Denver route in early 2019, as well. Currently, the airport is undergoing an additional runway extension, expanding the runway 879 feet. Increasing the distance for planes taking off will allow for handling larger aircraft and allow one aircraft to wait as another departs.
New Accommodation Developments
In the coming years, accommodations choices for stay over tourists will continue to diversify with new exciting projects announced from Hilton, Hyatt, and the Mandarin Oriental. Hilton Hotels is opening a new Curio Collection by Hilton in George Town on a massive site with units ranging from 1 to 3 bedrooms in 2021. This 80-suite development will include energy efficient technologies, yoga and fitness amenities, two farm-to-table restaurants and a poolside café. In February 2018, it was announced the Hyatt would be returning to Grand Cayman to operate a luxury 5-star beach resort with a luxe residential component. This opening, alongside the planned development from the Mandarin Oriental in Bodden Town will bring access to new market sectors with exceptional offerings. These scheduled completions will compliment recently opened luxury brand Kimpton Seafire Resort. Opened in 2016, the Kimpton provided Cayman with their first first sleek “boutique” hotel experience. This was followed by the reopening of the Beach Suites, rebranded and revamped as the on-trend, boutique hotel Palm Heights, which combines understated glamour, wellness, culture and cuisine.
This increase in room stock and services in Grand Cayman, coupled
with dozens of planned residential developments for the Seven Mile Beach
corridor, West Bay and South Sound will solidify the Cayman Islands as one of the premier destinations in the Western Hemisphere for sand, sea and sun lovers.
Cruise Ship Tourism
Cayman does not currently have a cruise berthing facility but uses local tenders – some of the best in the region – to transport passengers to shore, a process which usually runs smoothly. Debate still continues as to the necessity and viability of constructing a cruise berthing facility, construction of which opponents fear will have a long-term environmental impact that outweighs any possible economic benefits. Some proponents however, believe that a proper docking facility would stimulate growth on the waterfront, allowing tourists more flexibility to disembark. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of cruise ships with viral outbreaks yet to be seen, the future of cruise tourism is uncertain, at best.
The subject locally, remains controversial as future of cruise tourism in Cayman continues to be a contentious debate. Concerned citizens started a petition in August of 2018 and delivered it to government in September of 2019 with enough verified signatures to initiate a referendum. This would be the first peoples initiated referendum in the Cayman Islands. On 19 December, 2019, the first people's initiated referendum in Cayman history was scheduled to take place. The date was subject to much scrutiny as it did not allow newly registered voters to participate. Additionally, being so close to the Christmas break many citizens were concerned holiday plans abroad would prevent a fair voter turn out.
As this was to be the first referendum of its kind, there was concern that additional rules and legalities would need to be in place prior to a vote being rushed through. A referendum law was passed in October of 2019 that catered solely to the cruise port referendum as opposed to covering all people initiated referendums which prompted the volunteer led group Cruise Port Referendum Cayman to partner with the National Trust to take the Cayman Island's Government to court for a judicial review of the law.
In February 2020, Justice Tim Owen ruled that the referendum law was incompatible with section 70 of the Constitution because it failed to satisfy the requirement for a general law governing all referendums. The government has since appealed the decision with a hearing set for 6th of May, 2020. This matter of national importance has been eclipsed by the current world-wide health emergency, however it still remains on the forefront of concerned Caymanian and expat minds alike. The result of which will clearly impact the scope and breadth of Cayman Islands tourism for generations to come.