Following the world’s worst economic meltdown in history, the tourism industry is anticipating a resurgence in 2010. As the industry begins to rebuild, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism is refining its business strategy for increasing tourism to the region by tracking major trends influencing the world of travel.
From natural disasters and a flu pandemic to a global recession and continued terrorist threats, tourism in 2009 had its share of obstacles.
Last year we really buckled up and braced ourselves for the worst. It was a turbulent time but we weathered it and are now focused on a tourism strategy that will carry us through the next ten years. We’re cautiously optimistic about the future of tourism and are already seeing visitor arrivals begin to shift.
Part of that planning included a recent sit down with industry stakeholders which formed a part of the Tourism 2012 initiative. This project was designated to help carve out a strategy that would yield long-term visitor growth. One major component that came out of those meetings was the understanding that Cayman must differentiate its product from other sun destinations if it is to be successful and competitive in today’s market.
That wasn’t necessarily news to us, but it’s now become absolutely paramount to the way we do business. While sun, sea and sand are primary drivers for visiting Cayman, they aren’t the only factors influencing vacation decisions. But with the planning and tourism infrastructure the Cayman Islands has put into place over the last several years, and with more to come, we’re well poised to take advantage of some significant travel trends that will continue to influence the industry over the next decade.
Our research has long pointed to the family sector as a major growth opportunity. And Cayman has answered the call, enhancing its product with attractive kid friendly activities such as kite boarding, skate boarding and, most recently, go-karting.
An emerging trend with families is soft adventure travel and if it’s one thing Cayman has, it’s plenty of adventure. Our offerings are more well-rounded now, providing exciting itineraries above and below the sea for families with children of all ages.
Epicurean and romance travel are two other trends we have been nurturing for some time. The successful Cayman Cookout event hosted in conjunction with The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, the Taste of Cayman event held at Camana Bay and a marketing push by our international offices to brand the islands as the Caribbean culinary leader, has resulted in a greater awareness of Cayman among jet setting foodies and oenophiles.
The burgeoning romance market has also been on Cayman’s radar for several years. Back in 2004, the Department of Tourism saw the potential to tap into romance and hired Engaging Concepts, an expert consultancy to the wedding industry. They have been instrumental in helping mine new business and position the destination as a top getaway for wedding, honeymoons, vow renewals and couple vacations.
Under the direction of Engaging Concepts, a new wedding web site, www.caymanvows.ky, was launched in 2009 and Grand Cayman played host to Engage!09 :: something blue, a luxury wedding business symposium which saw the likes of wedding guru Preston Bailey and Martha Stewart’s Darcy Miller, among other notables, descend upon the destination. The event, which will return in 2010, provided over 60 luxury wedding planners with a distinct networking opportunity that enabled them to establish relationships with on island suppliers while enjoying all Grand Cayman has to offer.
Our romance campaign is a shining example of how we’ve positioned ourselves as a completely unique alternative to the competition. Unlike much of the packaged wedding product that exists on the market, the Cayman Islands is standing out from the crowd with weddings that are bespoke creations, designed and executed by our talented service providers.
The Department rolled out the romance strategy in the US to much success and this year we are extending the campaign to the Canadian, UK and European markets, where it is already yielding positive results.
Looking towards the future, the Department of Tourism has also identified several new trends that will influence travel to the Cayman Islands. Sports and wellness is a growing category that has only been fuelled by major sporting events like the Olympics, World Cup Football and World Cup Rugby, all taking place in 2010, and the PanAm Games, set for 2011.
We’ve seen an increase in interest to travel for health oriented vacations, whether it is to participate in a race, try a new sport or reconnect with spa and soft adventure activities. Sports tourism visitors have high spend, stay longer and are likely to return, often in groups.
The Department of Tourism is working closely with industry partners to create awareness around the wealth of sports and wellness activities available to visitors, from cricket, sailing, rugby and tennis to squash, golf and more. Promoting the destination’s sports oriented attractions is just part of the equation. We are also raising awareness about local sporting events like Reefathlon, Flowers Sea Swim, Norseca Volleyball Championships, the Cayman Marathon and more, which attract both residents and visitors alike, and offer an authentic, ‘off the beaten path’ experience.
The Cruise Conversion programme ‘Welcome Back’ is another way in which we are acting to ride the wave of a trend that has seen a steady growth for several years now.
Cruising continues to be a very popular travel option and we are working hard to encourage visitors to return to our shores for stay-over vacations with our awareness programme and a variety of pricing and promotional offers throughout the year.
Plans are in place to re-introduce the Welcome Back programme in June of this year, and coupled with the new visitor centre at the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal, where information about the destination is available to cruise passengers, the Department is encouraged by the progress made thus far. Cruise visitors will be encouraged to register at electronic kiosks in the terminal to redeem rewards, promotional offers and participate in sweepstakes opportunities. Visitors can also participate online once they return home from their cruise. And while we are happy with the progress, we know there is much more work to do in order to realize positive, stable gains from the cruise programme.
Just as there is a need to automate the Welcome Back campaign, there is a growing need to go mobile. Technology continues to be a growing trend the Department of Tourism is embracing in its day-to-day operations.
We’ve embraced social networking and are constantly fine tuning our online presence, but it’s important that we continue to evolve at the same pace as our target market. The world has gone mobile and travellers, both vacationers and those on business, will continue to demand easier access points to technology and mobile applications to assist with planning itineraries, making reservations and learning about the destination before they arrive.
The Cayman Islands also continues to make strides towards becoming a greener destination, a trend that isn’t waning among today’s eco-conscious travellers. Through a unique public/private sector partnership, the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is already Green Globe Certified, and several hotels are well on their way, leading the charge to strengthen the destination’s green credentials with the goal of making consumers feel good about travelling to the Cayman Islands.
We aren’t competing with just traditional sun destinations anymore. There is now, and will continue to be, increased competition from up-and-coming destinations like China, India, Latin America and the Gulf States. The playing field is tougher than it’s ever been. Our competitors are coming out swinging, with gift cards, free dining, spa credits and tailored itineraries that focus on the individual. There is a thirst for discovering the new, and we have to adapt and grow our product accordingly.
However following what was perhaps one of the most, if not the most challenging year for the entire industry, the Department of Tourism is feeling more buoyant now, particularly as the Caribbean Tourism Organisation is predicting a rebound in visitor arrivals this year.
The industry as a whole is seeing a small upswing but it’s going to take time to get back to previous levels. We know consumers are still feeling skittish and coming off a year where there was deep discounting, there is an expectation that prices will still be very attractive. That’s why with consumers researching more, spending smarter and demanding more value for money, the Department is doing everything possible to enhance the visitor experience. We’re still focusing on value added offerings but by offering exceptional customer service and developing better relationships with consumers, we’re also looking towards rebuilding tourism to its former heights.