One day this past summer I received a call from the Cayman Islands Ministry of Tourism. I’ll admit, I was surprised, since it had been seven years since I’d done any consulting work for the Cayman Islands. But I was very interested in the message of the call: “We have an opportunity – now – to make significant changes in our tourism business. We want you to help us.”
Three days later, I was facilitating a strategy session with leaders of the Cayman tourism community, in which we explored the key business issues that affect tourism growth in Cayman. This session was followed by a series of stakeholder meetings, in which people from tourism, government and the civil service offered their insights into the tourism business. We also conducted a series of community meetings in which members of the public were able to express their views.
In this article I want to share with you what I’ve learned over these past few months. I’ll do this by sharing my thoughts about some of the most critical business issues – the “Things That Matter” – to building the Cayman Islands tourism business.
The most important audience
After the first strategy session this past summer, I was convinced of this: The most important ‘audience’ for marketing the Cayman Islands brand is the audience of people who live in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands tourism marketing ‘department’ has 55,000 people in it. Everyone who lives here is in the tourism business, because everyone who lives here has an effect on the visitor experience.
Yes, the Cayman Islands needs strong marketing efforts to attract overseas visitors. But a strong internal ‘marketing’ campaign, with the intention of creating shared, enthusiastic beliefs about Cayman among its residents, will do wonders for the tourism business. Pride in the place you in live translates into great hospitality for the people who visit you. Imagine how the visitor experience would improve if 55,000 people believed, “I can do things to help visitors love the Cayman Islands.”
This leads to my next point …
Lack of consensus
The people of Cayman have strong, passionate beliefs about tourism. The challenge: these beliefs vary greatly, from person to person.
I believe that a lack of consensus about tourism issues is the No.1 drag on Cayman Islands tourism business. There is disagreement on how to market the Cayman Islands, what differentiates the Cayman Islands from other destinations, who our customers should be and the role of Cayman Islands culture in the brand story, to name only a few points of contention. These disagreements make it hard to accomplish things and prevent Cayman from delivering the wonderfully integrated experience of brand harmony that it is capable of delivering. This limits our ability to create results.
Our tourism strategy going forward needs to focus on bringing the community into alignment on these critical issues.
Our biggest source of untapped latent profit
Many people love to vacation in the Cayman Islands. But very few of our visitors vacation in Cayman as often as they could. One of the best ways to build Cayman tourism is to build strong, profitable relationships with our guests.
Think of this: someone visits on a cruise ship, staying in Cayman for six hours. They feel welcomed and have a good time, so they visit us the next year for six days. They start to feel connected to the Cayman Islands, so they come back every year for the next six years. Their relationship with Cayman grows, so they buy a vacation home and come for the next sixty years.
There is significant untapped latent profit in our existing visitor base.
Next time you see a couple from a cruise ship strolling through George Town, imagine the potential economic impact if we could develop a strong relationship with that couple.
“Sun, sea, sand & safety” are not enough to differentiate the Cayman Islands.
Many people said to me: “Steve, we know what our brand is. We know why people come here. It’s for the sun, sea, sand and safety. That’s all that counts.” I’ve worked in many tourism destinations and many of them have beautiful beaches, beautiful water and great sunsets. Even if you argue that Cayman’s natural beauty is superior, you’ll have to admit that the competition scores very well on these features.
Cayman has a very compelling, very unique personality. Cayman culture is so much more than its history; Cayman is one of the most vibrant, contemporary, continually-evolving societies in the Caribbean. Cayman has a worldly, welcoming and successful personality that, when combined with our natural beauty, creates a story that no other vacation destination can match. We are truly in a category all of our own.
One, clear, unifying strategy
Remember “I love New York,” or “Virginia is for lovers”? These were more than just marketing slogans; they became the essence of rich stories that helped people understand the unique nature of a place.
What the Cayman Islands needs is something like that – a clear, unifying strategy that builds pride for the community and builds memories for visitors. We need a rallying cry that helps people say, “I get it. This describes what Cayman means to me.”
As a consultant to the Cayman Islands, I will, of course, deliver my insights and recommendations in a formal report. But if that report cannot be summed up in one sentence, I will not have succeeded.
It’s all in the implementation
A single, clear, “I get it” unifying strategy is the first step to unifying the community and building tourism. But no strategy has value until it is implemented.
Yes, there is a lack of consensus within the Cayman Islands community about many tourism issues. But, fortunately, there is consensus on a very important issue: we need to do something – now! I sense a new drive, a new energy and a new willingness to act. I’m writing this at the tail-end of a trip to Cayman in which I met with business leaders about these critical tourism issues. I feel more confident than ever that the Cayman Islands community is prepared to address these critical issues and create a winning, profitable and sustainable tourism business.