A couple of sentences jumped out of a page at me the other day when I was reading an account by a UK journalist who had visited the Cayman Islands on an invitation by the Department of Tourism to take part in the 30th Flowers Sea Swim.
She wrote: “Whether ex-pat or Cayman national, there is a noticeable air of pride and togetherness about the community…. Caymanians are also an active bunch, and passionate about their environment.”
This short statement brought it home to me not only how lucky we are to live on Cayman and enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, but how this impacts so positively on our tourism product. In fact, how fortunate our visitors are to be given the chance to share in our lifestyle, and enjoy those pastimes and recreational activities that we may take for granted, but that are so important to our day-to-day wellbeing and fulfilment.
There is no doubt that our island lifestyle has shaped our tourism product, and made this one of the most aspirational destinations in the world. Those of us with the good fortunate to reside in the Cayman Islands simply don’t settle for second best, and therefore our visitors are equally fortunate – because they don’t have to either.
This is inextricably linked to the fact that we attract such a broad and cosmopolitan cross-section of cultures to share our island home, but of course there is far more here to appeal to overseas residents than the financial benefits of being an offshore country. The UK’s Financial Times newspaper homed in on this a few months ago when it identified that besides the high quality of life and low taxes, the wealthy now have a new way of choosing which location is best for them: happiness.
The writer singled out the Cayman Islands as a prime example of an offshore destination that is attracting residents because of the quality of life it promotes. He wrote about the “welcoming feel for newcomers from all cultures, with many people enjoying an outdoor life in a year-round temperate climate.
Fantastic sailing and diving, low crime rates and an expanding airport make it all the merrier”. He finishes by pointing out that there is “little wonder the Cayman Islands outperform Luxembourg, Bahrain and Qatar in the International Living index”.
The myriad visitors that come here may not be initially aware of the rich tapestry of influences that make Cayman such a special place but there is no doubt that the sentiment spills out into the community spirit that is evident to everyone who visits.
Of course our tourists appreciate the fine sandy beaches, the world-class snorkelling and diving, the outstanding dining, the festivals and arts, and above all the choices they are given but crucially these experiences are enhanced because they are sharing them so closely with the people who live and work here.
As all-inclusive resorts become increasingly the norm in many of our competitive destinations, particularly in the Caribbean, a situation which has come about through concerns for personal and financial security, the cultural divide that they create becomes ever greater; an uncomfortable chasm between host country and visitor.
According to the BBC, which conducted research into all inclusive holidays earlier this year, in Turkey just 10 per cent of tourist spend from all-inclusive holidays found its way into the local economy.
In the Dominican Republic, it said all-inclusive hotels have been blamed for restaurant closures and increased negative attitude towards tourists. Nothing could be further from the truth in Cayman and we must celebrate the harmony that this creates between tourist and islander, and the resulting feel-good factor that gives our visitors such positive experiences.
Which brings me back to the Flowers Sea Swim which this year attracted a group of journalists from the UK and resulted in widespread coverage in several national newspapers and magazines as one of the world’s leading ocean water swimming events.
In recent memory, we have also been chosen to host the Rugby World Cup Qualifying rounds, the Gaelic Football team, the Garmin-Cervelo cycling training camp, NORCECA Beach Volleyball qualifiers and the Squash World Female Championship bringing with them some of the world’s top athletes.
It is said that sport unites everyone, something we have clearly seen in the recent Olympic Games, and it is gratifying that as a small country Cayman can produce not only top class athletes such as the Fraser Brothers, but can also attract globally significant sporting groups to our islands, and host our own sports events which in turn attract tourists. The Cayman Marathon is another example of a boutique sporting event that brings to our islands sportsmen and women who want to share in the community spirit of such a globally recognised event.
I have it on good authority from my international colleagues that it wasn’t just Caymanians who were cheering on Team Cayman at the London 2012 Olympics – our fan base is spread far and wide thanks to the loyalty that we engender in our visitors who genuinely feel a bond with the islanders they meet year after year.
Developments such as the new National Gallery and Camana Bay have been hugely significant events for islanders and visitors, and tremendous platforms on which to showcase our lifestyle at its finest.
Few things can be as heartening for those of us who work in tourism as seeing Camana Bay thronging with locals and holidaymakers together soaking up the atmosphere, browsing among our local producers at the Farmers’ Market, sharing superlative dining experiences and watching their children playing together with local youngsters oblivious to their differing accents, skin colour and nationality. It comes into its own at an event like Cayman Cookout which in itself is a showstopper.
If there is another event anywhere on earth that brings together several of the world’s top chefs and sommeliers, all unpaid, for the enjoyment of islanders and visitors alike – not least of all themselves – in an atmosphere of such profound professionalism and conviviality, I have yet to come across it. Surely when it comes to endorsement of our lifestyle there is no greater example than two of the world’s greatest chefs, Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain, relaxing on Seven Mile Beach with their families after entertaining some of the most well-heeled and best-dressed tourists in the Caribbean.
Cayman is a veritable catwalk of international fashion talent which is starting to radiate out much further afield than the stylish resort shops and boutiques of Camana Bay. We were privileged earlier this summer to play host to one of Canada’s hottest luxury swimwear designers, Tosca Delfino, who chose Cayman as the backdrop for a photo shoot to launch her new collection, which includes a Cayman swimsuit that was showcased at Toronto Fashion Week.
A public relations coup brought about by DOT’s office in Canada, the relationship has obvious marketing currency and speaks volumes about Cayman that an international designer of her standing chooses our country upon which to launch her new collection.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Cayman’s own fashion protégée, Manuela Dack, is about to make a mark of her own at London Fashion Week, provoking admiration from the fashion media and community. Manuela is part of the Cayman Ambassadors Programme which was set up by the DOT in the UK to harness the tremendous pride and goodwill that exists among Caymanians based there, who can promote all elements of Cayman arts and lifestyle. Manuela openly credits her designs with the influences she gained from growing up in the Cayman Islands – her stingray dress being a notable example.
Given our growing status among the fashion world, DOT was delighted to discover that the editor of the UK’s top fashion magazine Elle and media personality Lorraine Candy was planning to bring her young family to Cayman on holiday earlier this year, on recommendation from her travel editor. We took the chance to encourage Lorraine to enjoy some of our island highlights and she reciprocated by tweeting about her experiences to her 45,000 followers – including that of her one year old taking her first steps at Rum Point, something that the Candy family will remember for a lifetime.
Lorraine described the trip as “amazing, magical and by the far the best in her 25 years as an editor”. Word of mouth as we all know is the most powerful and cost-effective form of advertising, and when the words are coming from one as high profile as this, we can be sure they are not falling on deaf ears.
There is a tangible sense of belonging that our visitors discover when they come here, thanks in no small part to the friendly, creative and collaborative nature of our society, and it is this legacy that they take home with them, along with a lasting relationship with islanders, often with the result that they return time and again.
Who can forget the heart-warming story of a Cayman Islands wedding organiser being invited to the launch of the Space Shuttle and the subsequent image of the Cayman flag being flown in space by the astronauts, after their nuptials here on Grand Cayman. If we at the Department of Tourism could bottle this legacy, this tremendous sense of belonging, we would have our ‘eureka moment’ when it comes to promoting tourism to the Cayman Islands.
In the meantime, we will do our very best to promote our greatest assets – our people and our lifestyle – and in doing so ensure that the Cayman Islands is firmly on everyone’s list of must-visit destinations.