Tourism Overview

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. Numbers have not looked so promising since 2000!

Cayman Islands visitor air arrivals broke all records in 2017 with a record number of 418,403 stay-over visitors arriving between January and December 2017. This was a 7.85% increase from 2016’s number of 385,451 air arrivals and 2018 is shaping up to be another record year. We have already had 134,170 visitors between January and March 2018 which is an increase of 22,933 visitors from the same period in 2017. It must be mentioned though that Cayman emerged completely unscathed from the devastating hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria and Jose) which hit and devastated our Caribbean neighbours including Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, St. Barts, Anguilla and Puerto Rico. Recovery in many of the islands is still ongoing.

The choices for stay over tourist in Grand Cayman have diversified, with the Kimpton Seafire Resort providing Cayman’s first sleek “boutique” hotel experience to the new Margaritaville Resort bringing Jimmy Buffet-style family fun to Seven Mile Beach. The 50 million dollar redesign of the renowned Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa is also wowing visitors. This increase in room stock and services in Grand Cayman, coupled with dozens of planned residential developments for the Seven Mile Beach corridor and the Island’s other coastal hot spots to the east, will solidify the Cayman Islands as one of the premier destinations in Western Hemisphere for sand, sea and sun lovers. In February 2018, it was announced the Hyatt would be returning to Grand Cayman to operate a luxury 5-star beach resort, expected to open in 2020.

According to the World Tourism Organization (2016 Tourism Highlights), the Caribbean is one of the best performing regions, reporting a 7% growth in international arrivals, followed closely by North America that reported a 6% growth. This upward trend is undoubtedly consistent with with the current consumer confidence in the United States and of course, it also points to the overall desirability of the Caribbean region.

The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism reported that visitors from the Northeast region of the United States are the primary market; however, arrivals from Canada and Europe have been steady. 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 largest demographic group that visits Cayman consists of males and females from North America between the ages of 36 and 49.

Cruise ship numbers continue to also be high, rising again after a marginal dip in 2016. The Cayman Islands Port Authority reported that a total of 1,83,038 cruise ship passengers travelled to Grand Cayman in 2017. (1,711,853 arrived in 2015.) Remarkably, Cayman still enjoys record high cruise ship visitations (since 2000) and all without a cruise berthing facility.

Currently, cruise ships use local tenders – some of the best in the region – to transport passengers to shore and this process 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.

The Cayman Islands’ general elections took place in May 2017, and to date nothing further has been determined publicly concerning whether plans for a berthing facility will become a reality in the coming years. Cayman is one of the Caribbean’s world class destinations not only because of its well developed infrastructure and sophisticated services, but also for its natural beauty. So, it is only reasonable to expect that any large scale development will be measured and thoughtful, so that the natural beauty that brings people to these shores is preserved.

Arnold Palmer Ironwood Golf Resort

The Arnold Palmer-branded Ironwood Golf Lodge, a multi-million dollar development project set for Cayman’s eastern districts, has been in the works for a few years. The project was contingent on a number of issues being resolved, one being that road access to the development encroached on the Cayman National Trust’s heritage site, the Mastic Trail. This trail that is visited by tourist and locals annually is of significant importance to the Cayman Islands; it is one of the last remaining dry wood forests in the country where a variety of rare species of flora and fauna can be found. An agreement was reached in 2014 by the Government and the National Trust to divert the access road away from sensitive ecological areas in the wetlands and Mastic Trail.

But one issue that is still pending is the actual construction of the 10-mile extension east-west arterial highway that will allow a quicker and more direct route to the future development from George Town. Government’s anticipated support of the project involved agreeing to contribute to funding and building this highway. But currently, it remains unknown when road works will actually commence.

In late 2016, well known Cayman developer Joe Imparato announced that he would design and build the clubhouse and lodge for the development. He also explained that two five-story buildings for a hotel and the residences were in the works. The clubhouse and lodge is slated for completion in late 2018.

Although legend Arnold Palmer died in September of 2016, he was highly supportive of the project and his family is still currently involved.

Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa’s Redesign

As we mentioned in the overview, Grand Cayman’s stay over tourists have much to look forward to in 2017. The discerning traveller should have another Cayman property on their radar. Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa’s extensive $50 million redesign is nearing completion (mid 2017) with the first phase already done.

One of Condé Nast’s Traveller World’s Best Caribbean Resorts (2016), the Westin Grand Cayman is not only renowned for offering guests superior room stock and services, but also for occupying one of the widest and most expansive stretches of Cayman’s famed Seven Mile Beach. Today, the property provides even more to travelers seeking a sophisticated beach-side experience in Cayman.

Guests that arrive at the Westin Grand Cayman will be now welcomed in their chic new lobby with sand-tone wood flooring and organic columns, with sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea. They can also sip on a fresh cocktail at the lobby’s new Catboat Lobby Bar before venturing out to the beach or to the expanded freshwater pool and swim up bar, considered one of the largest in Grand Cayman. There is even a call-waiting button to summon a server at the pool deck.

Along with the fine dining experiences found at Beach House and the other restaurants on this 8-acre property, visitors can pop over for a snack at the new cafe: Cayman Coffee Exchange or work on their New Year resolutions at the hotel’s fitness centre. A bit of pampering at the Hibiscus Spa is always a treat for both visitors and locals alike.

We hear the Westin Grand Cayman’s live entertainment options are even bigger and better too.  The second phase of the hotel’s transformation (May-August 2017) includes full renovations to guest rooms and suites.

The Marriott Redevelopment

Proving that confidence continues to be high in projections for an increase in future stay-over visitors, the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort completed a 16 million dollar redevelopment in 2014, introducing their “Beach House” concept to Grand Cayman.

The hotel’s decor could be described as relaxed elegance and the new restaurants on the property centre on fresh local produce and seafood, and high end culinary offerings. Making waves with foodies is the restaurant Anchor and Den, which opened in the hotel’s lobby in 2014.

The hotel went up for sale in late January 2015, and many real estate watchers estimate it will sell in excess of $100 million. (It has been confirmed that the Marriott will continue to manage the hotel after the sale.)

Margaritaville Resort

Margaritaville Resort is coming to Seven Mile Beach! The old and somewhat faded Treasure Island hotel will get a new lease on life when it is transformed into a Margaritaville resort in February 2017. What’s more, this highly anticipated resort is already taking reservations! Occupying prime real estate on Cayman’s own “gold coast” Seven Mile Beach,  the 285-room hotel will boost multiple restaurants and bars, several swimming pools (including a two-story pool slide), retail shops, a dedicated kid’s zone, a 24-hour fitness centre, plus a meeting and event centre.

(Steak lovers should check out the Resort’s new hotspot YARA that will feature classic Wagyu steaks and Niaman Ranch lamb along with an extensive raw bar and wine list.)

The Howard Hospitality Group purchased the property in late 2015 and announced their redevelopment plans shortly after. Renovation of the 110 condo suites on the property are also slated to begin this year.

The Dart Group

The Dart Group continues to be bullish, given their recent acquisitions and their big reveal in 2015 that they will inject $300 million into Camana Bay to expand the development.

This expansion plan includes the construction of an underpass on West Bay Road and the widening of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway; the latter will be a four lane highway and road works will continue throughout 2017. The Group’s overall plan also calls for the creation of pedestrianized and vehicular links that connect Camana Bay to other key Dart properties—The Kimpton and possibly the Cayman Islands Yacht Club—along the Seven Mile Beach strip, achieving their larger vision: “sea to Sound connectivity”.

This plan, however, is simply just the first phase in the Group’s ambitious 10-year development plan that was quietly revealed at a private symposium hosted by Ernst and Young in 2014.  It was reported in 2015 that the Dart Group had purchased seaside properties in East End, including the unmarred Barefoot Beach.

To date, it is unknown if the Group plans to develop this picturesque stretch of beach that is much beloved by locals and visitors to Grand Cayman.

Cayman Brac and Little Cayman

Cayman Brac and Little Cayman will have a decidedly different developmental outcome than Grand Cayman. While development along Grand Cayman’s renowned Seven Mile Beach corridor remains robust, the Government has promised to keep the charm of the Sister Islands intact; residents and return visitors flock to these Islands for a more tranquil and eco-friendly experience.

Stakeholders and conservationist are hopeful that unsuitable developments, that would mar that experience, will be avoided given what is happening in tiny Bimini (Bahamas) after the development of the Bimini Bay Resort. The recent construction of the 10,000 square foot casino and a 343-room hotel and marina has angered many locals, as large scale developments such as these are changing the face of one of the Bahamas’ most treasured Out Islands.

In early June 2016, it was announced that the Dart Group had acquired Paradise Villas resort and the Hungry Iguana restaurant in Little Cayman. No immediate redevelopment plans were revealed, but CEO of Dart Realty Mark VanDevlde maintains that the Group is committed to preserving the unique characteristics of Little Cayman.