Air arrivals: the harsh reality

| 03/08/2017 | 32 Comments

A CNS reader writes: It’s a pity the Hon Minister wasn’t a bit more forthcoming with some of the arrival stats that don’t make quite such happy reading. UK arrivals – 6,808, down just under 10% on the first six months of 2016 and stuck at slightly below the same level they have been for the past decade.

Bottom line, UK tourists and divers aren’t coming here even though alternatives like the Sinai coast resorts have been closed since the beginning of 2016. Put in perspective, before the problems in Egypt started one UK tour operator was flying more UK tourists than that into Sharm El Sheik every month.

European arrivals – 13,844 in Jan-June 2016 but just 11,294 this year, a fall of almost 12%. Again these are markets hit by events in the Middle East and North Africa but we’re clearly not picking up the slack.

Canada – Arrival figures have pretty much flat-lined 14,080 to 14,306 but again that’s the general level it’s been for years, the numbers aren’t improving. At the same time the flow of Canadians into Cuba shows no sign of easing off.

Latin America — DoT says visitors were up by 45.22% but they conveniently don’t tell you actual numbers because in reality the six-month totals are minimal. 589 visitors flew in from Brazil and 469 from Argentina, while stats for most of the rest of the region don’t even make double figures. In comparison, Cuba attracted 4,300 Brazilian tourists in January 2017 alone.

The harsh reality is that when it comes to these key markets the Cayman Islands have two huge problems – we’re not catering for the current AI tourist market and we’re too darn expensive when compared with the competition. It’s not, as Minister Kirkconnell claims, simply about economic factors but a wide range of issues including providing what customers want rather than what DoT think they want (the ‘If we build it, they will come’ mentality) and good old-fashioned value for money.

You can build all the $400-$450 a night hotel rooms you want but when your competitors can offer a week’s all-inclusive holiday (flights, transfers, meals and drinks) in comparable accommodation for under $1,200 per person, all the promotions and airline partnerships (whatever happened to the 2010 CAL/Virgin deal?) in the world aren’t going to turn things around.

The only thing saving local tourism right now is President Trump’s opposition to the normalisation of US/Cuban relations but it’s only a matter of time before harsh economic realities force him to bow to commercial pressures and ease up on that.

What you are seeing now is simply the culmination of years of muddled thinking and bad planning that have lost the Cayman Islands the opportunity to become a serious player in tourism markets outside the USA.

This comment was written in response to Air arrivals heading for record-breaking year

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Category: Business Viewpoint, Stay-over tourism, Tourism

Comments (32)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Cayman Islands is going after the high end traveler. truth be told, other than the Ritz, and the kimpton, we do not have any 5 star hotels. marriott and westin are good 4 stars, barely. it is not about being third world, or first world, it is what you offer. Cayman claims to be the culinary capital of the Caribbean. DoT needs to eat on other islands, as the dining here is quite pedestrian compared to other islands, and does not vary. too many good restauarants doing the same thing here. I have worked in 4 Caribbean islands, running hotels, and the offering here is poor, we are getting tourists in spite of our hotels and not because of. Archaic rules and regulations need to be addressed. bars close at midnight on a Saturday? no live music on a Sunday? if you want to be taken seriously, improve the hotels, and get with the times.

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  2. cayguy says:

    I agree with the OP, DOT and CITA for years have been taking a reactive approach to arrivals. Like mentioned, better market research on the type of tourist that would want to stay over has been replaced with the tell tale building out expensive inventory to cater to luxury tourists. a majority of these same tourists end up in Bahamas, Jamaica and so on at more inclusive (and in many cases more private luxury) deals for hotel, flight and meals taken care for them with not much hassle. Its time a rethink of this tourism product as there seems to be a missing link in there of better affordability.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    This commentary should be called "Air arrivals: the alternative facts"

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the very well researched article.
    Unfortunately not mentioned are the transit passengers which are counted twice in the statistic, especially for cuban bound flights. This manipulaton is going on since Hon. Mr. Jefferson was Minster of Tourism in the 90thies.

    All inclusive resorts are not the solution, it is that the tourist product "Cayman Islands" is since years completely wrong positioned. A trip to T/C or French Islands which have 50% less infrastructure than Cayman would help to understand how perfectly the individual resorts have positioned them self with the Government Support.

    Tourist Association and Department of Tourism are two heavily funded organization operating side by side with both of them of no intermediate, 3 years or 5 year strategie in place. Both departments should be unified and privatesed with Government participation. Public Job selection in order to have the opportunity to hire the brightest candidates and not politically motivated individuals.

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  5. Original poster says:

    CNS, thanks for highlighting my comment but that should read, 'current AI (all inclusive) tourist market,' and you've somehow inserted 'A CNS' in text.

    CNS: Sorry about that.

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    • Original poster says:

      Thanks CNS, looks like I rattled a few cages here. It always amazes me that on islands where stayover tourism is the major cash industry so few people have a clue about the economic realities of this product. Guess that's small island mentality for you? Sadly, as the saying goes, 'You can't fix stupid.' The fact is that DoT have dropped the ball here.

      I'll leave the final comment on this to a friend of mine who works for one of the largest UK/European tour operators. He simply said, 'Cayman Islands tourism industry? What Cayman Islands tourism industry?' And you'd be pushed to argue with that opinion because every month his employer's overall Caribbean holidays sales comfortably beats the total annual tourist arrivals at ORIA.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Not sure I want some of the UK tourists that I have seen. They seem to like the all inclusive so they can drink, get loud, & misbehave. I'm sure there is a balance between quantity & quality. Large numbers may not always be the best.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    This is also the 'putting all your eggs in one basket' syndrome.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    European/UK arrivals - not going to pick up without direct flights and that needs a runway extension.

    UK arrivals - dropping after Brexit and you might as well write of the Brits for the next decade because they have dropped themselves in economic doo-doo.

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    • Original poster says:

      1:40pm There's no incentive for any direct UK/European flights. You could build a runway long enought to land 747s but as long as the hotels don't match the required standards the tour operators want they won't touch the place. DoT went all through this about 10 years and threw the opportunity away.

      As for the UK? I've got friends their and for all practical purposes Brexit has had no impact on their attitude to vacationing or the Cayman Islands at all. So what if the exchange rate is US$1.30-£1? When you're being asked to pay $300+ a night for a hotel room worth $100-$120 you're still being ripped off. The great advantage destinations serviced by the big UK tour operators have is that their all inclusive holidays are paid for up front in GBP so tourists are relatively unaffected by currency fluctuations.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Those who voted for Brexit were well aware that a period of economic uncertainty would follow. This has nothing to do with visiting Cayman - we have been visiting since 2001 and our fellow Brits have overwhelmingly never heard of the Cayman Islands, and if they have, don't know where they are! There's just no promotion of the islands as a holiday destination, but on the upside, you really wouldn't want to be overrun with Brits abroad!

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Yes cayman vacations are expensive but that's what "high end" tourism is about. The people building expensive hotels probably have a very good idea what their market is, which is to say they disagree with you and are not seeking the $1200 package tour trade.

    European and UK arrivals are 9% of the total. Why? Well, one reason is that the Med and even the Red Sea are much closer to them. They can drive to the Med if they want, and it is a pretty and pleasant trip. Cuba is a dump (interesting, but still a dump) and is no more threat than the Bahamas, Mexico, Central America, Florida and the rest of the Caribbean have always been.

    Your pessimism conlicts with the reality of the current tourist boom. Surely someone is doing something right.

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    • Anonymous says:

      What tourist boom - even the "el cheepo" cruise ship passenger numbers are down. And if Cuba etc are dumps, why are they, plus many other Caribbean destinations seeing consistent, considerable growth - they have a great deal more to offer.

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    • Original poster says:

      Cuba is a dump? Try telling that to the 4 million tourists who went there last year.

      As for the tourist boom? Check out the hotel occupancy rates - they paint a completely different picture.

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      • Anonymous says:

        I should have said its better than Haiti. Considering its size, 4000000 is nothing, even assuming that's a real number.

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    • Original poster says:

      Can you find me any 'high end' tourism here? Because I sure as heck can't. Over-priced they may be but even the resorts in Jamaica make Grand Cayman look third-world.

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    • Ci a unique place says:

      You are right . What the poster does not understand is the average passenger spend. The Uk visitors are looking sonething cheap . I visited the Bahamas last year and booked at a little hotel which was full of Brits. It was awful Ime and my wife could not spend the night even after a room change but the brits was happy to stay. The standard here is not for the average brit.
      The Cayman islands have a lot to offer including how clean the place is.
      However it appears that when CI gets something right people still want to tear down the CI instead of embracing it.
      By the way even though all of the Caribbean Ialands are within a few hundred miles of each other they all offer something different.
      Stop trying to change the CI we like our island the way it is. We do not want to be like the rest and that is why you are here and not at the other islands you are trying to sell.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Please give your time to helping the DoT out as you clearly have the knowledge to help them.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Those nationalities mentioned are more suited to the Cuban and other third world distinctions as they either can't afford high end destinations or is simply too cheap

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    • Original poster says:

      Harsh reality - Cuba and most of the other destinations in this region offer better service and better accommodation at a much better price. It's not about being cheap but getting value for money.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Sorry to disagree, Cuba is about being cheap and temporarily exotic. Mexico, Jamaica, and the others are all about cheap volume. Please don't do volume, there is not enough Cayman to go around as it is.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    I think you answered your own complaint. We are catering to high end tourists. We cant handle nor want any more numbers. Most of those you mention are known for being cheap.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Good point, however the dollar not exactly helping with UK arrivals now, and whilst the EU economies are slowly picking up, there is still a hell of a lot of unemployment in some of the major economies...people are being cautious in general. I agree that if we want to expand air arrivals, (and why would we not, they spend most of the dollars left on Island), then we need more long haul options from Europe (which will probably force BA to rethink its pricing) and more affordable hotels and resorts. We don't have to go far to see some of the deals places like Sandals offer these days...why are we not encouraging that type of facility? More airport investment and mid-range hotels needed...

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    • Original poster says:

      Apparently DoT met with a large UK tour operator about 10 years ago to discuss the 'Sandals' style option and were told it's not the way we do things here. Needless to say they took their business elsewhere. The fallacy of DoT logic is that AI holidays are 'low end' when in fact (and I speak from personal experience here) they provide a vacation experience that makes pretty much anything on Grand Cayman look very down-market.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    Your glass is always half empty is it not? While your numbers may well be correct, as a percentage of the total stay over visitor it is quite small. Yes one of these days Cuba become more of a destination for American visitors but it is not today. The question needs to be does Cayman really need an increase in visitors or should it be focusing on quality vs. quantity. Less tourist with a higher spend ability would be better for the visitor and local alike.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Rich people get just as drunk as the rest, and generally are more obnoxious...so lets be careful how we compare?

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  14. Anonymous says:

    A current issue for U.K. visitors is the £ to US$ exchange rate which seriously affects the cost of a Caribbean holiday, and only exaggerates our high cost of accommodation.
    The long standing issue is the lack of a true direct flight from the U.K. - without the current stop that BA makes in Nassau. Westbound a large proportion of Economy Class passengers disembark for holidays in the Bahamas, cheaper than Cayman, and frequently package deals. However, actual direct flights cannot be viable until the airport has a runway long enough to allow the larger jet aircraft to take off with a full load of fuel.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Yes. The BA flight in its current form, advertises both jurisdictions at the same time to passengers and delivers the vast majority of them to one of our competitors, the Bahamas, with every flight. You arrive in Cayman feeling like a leftover, having been stuck without A/C on a tarmac for almost always at least 2 hours. The flight has a few specific groups of customers sustaining it and tourists are a significant proportion, but they go to the Bahamas. They bring all the crying babies and then get off at the first stop. In 4 years of doing that flight I used to watch both cabins substantially empty before the plane proceeded to Cayman. The flight attendants on the flights out of here now - they seemed like they had a grand time! Always tanned. And all the tourists would come back on with you at Nassau, after you waited another 2 hours in the heat, with their crying babies, and take up all the extra seats.

      Why would anyone repeat this travel experience except out of necessity or thought of reward?

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  15. Anonymous says:

    I am happy with our tourism growth. Keep em coming

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  16. Anonymous says:

    All rubbish. Cayman is paradise and most Europeans are too cheap to visit paradise.

    My tourism business has tripled it's revenue in the past 3 years. Who cares where the tourism comes from.

    Cuba is so backward it will take them another 50 years to be a true competitor.

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