Business and the beach

The business world has pressed the panic button. As budgets are slashed and department heads put under scrutiny for their expense accounts, one has to ask, “is a meeting, event or conference held in a Caribbean locale a reasonable proposition this year?” The answer may surprise you.

n today’s turbulent economic waters, it’s critical to reset priorities and build new strategies for success. But so much of what’s happening right now is unprecedented, leaving many business leaders questioning their judgement and searching for answers on how to do business in this complex economy. Cost-cutting, particularly on business travel, has become the new reality for corporations trying to balance the bottom line. And in its place, web conferencing is becoming more and more prevalent, particularly for those needing to connect frequently. But while there’s no denying the cost benefits to cutting the travel budget, there are also significant strategic advantages to maintaining it.

Now, more than ever, relationships matter and creating powerful connections with clients and colleagues is what will separate the successful from the unsuccessful during this recession. Communication is vital and embracing a strategy that includes meeting face-to-face, even if it is less often right now, is critical to success. The power of collaborating as a team or showing a client you care by making the journey can set your business apart from the rest – a potent message in these times. While your competition is battening down the hatches to weather the storm, experts say those who intensify their efforts to gain market share right now, will be the ones who rise from the ashes. Collaboration, engagement and connection have never been more important and you can’t do that from your computer screen.

One destination that remains optimistic and continues to hold its position as a premier destination for meetings, conferences and corporate events, is the Cayman Islands, a trio of islands located just south of Miami. When it comes to the promotion of corporate and commercial tourism, the Cayman Islands has plenty to offer, most notably a world-class infrastructure rivalling any major US city, all of which is set against a beautiful Caribbean backdrop. But as a leading financial centre, the Cayman Islands understands what draws business travellers.

“The advancements in technology today allow all businesses to connect in real and effective ways, but it isn’t enough,” says Shomari Scott, director of tourism. “There is absolutely no substitute for ‘pressing the flesh’ as they say. Not only can offsite meetings and conferences be inspiring and motivating to delegates but they can often close a deal with a wavering client or serve as the springboard needed for developing business initiatives where everyone feels onboard right from the beginning. The key is to develop an agenda that addresses critical issues, those that can’t be solved from behind your desk.”

While everyone working in tourism is aware that it is certainly not business as usual these days, the Cayman Islands is quick to point out that its location has been a real draw for event planners on a budget. With convenient direct flights on Cayman Airways to Chicago, Miami, New York, Tampa and Washington DC, there is little difference for the corporate traveller to take a flight from those cities to a domestic location as opposed to the much more attractive option of the Cayman Islands. Other US carriers also continue to fly direct to the Cayman Islands from a significant number of American gateways, Air Canada flies direct from Toronto and British Airways flies direct from London. Cayman is less than an hour from Miami and a few hours from the country’s capital Washington DC, making it an attractive and entirely realistic alternative to staying within the borders of the US.

Minister of Tourism for the Cayman Islands Charles Clifford noted how important Cayman Airways and, in particular, the routes have been to the tourism industry as a whole. “December 2008 saw Cayman Airways launch its new non-stop service from the US capital of Washington DC, to Grand Cayman and the reintroduction of seasonal service to Chicago,” he said. “The result was an increase in the number of seats into the destination even as some of our competitors saw a sharp decrease in airlift.”

“Access to technology, modern facilities, superb catering services, outstandingly beautiful settings, diverse locations, accessible transport and unrivalled on-the-spot local knowledge about the business world, all combine to make Cayman very attractive,” said Scott. “Of course, great weather, breath taking beaches, golf courses, delicious food, beautiful spas and a tropical landscape are themselves fantastic selling points but, as a leading financial services jurisdiction with a wealth of diverse knowledge and access to professional human and technological resources, Cayman is fortunate to be at the top of the industry when it comes to providing real expertise and support.”

Melissa Ladley, public relations director at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman said that cost-cutting is easier than one might think. Without sacrificing on the level of service, the hotel has built-in planning benefits that lower costs and a charity programme that provides an opportunity for corporations to give back.

“The professional meetings and special events staff at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, which includes experts in technology as well as a conference concierge, can handle full details of the programme so that the planner needs to bring far fewer people from their corporate staff. This can result in significant cost savings,” said Ladley. “The Ritz-Carlton also offers planners an opportunity to donate ten per cent of their meeting revenue to The Ritz-Carlton Community Footprints fund and the charity of their choice through the Meaningful Meetings programme. Funds from the programme facilitate hunger and poverty relief, environmental conservation and the well-being of disadvantaged children. ”

High-end hotels and resorts along Seven Mile Beach such as the Grand Cayman Beach Suites, Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa, Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman offer the potential for myriad corporate events. And, while they afford great focal points for anything from corporate retreats to global seminars, destinations such as Pedro St. James or Boatswain’s Beach provide alternative and unusual locations for holding stimulating meetings, presentations, gala dinners or special events. From the Jolly Roger to the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park, the access to potential venues for organisers wanting something different is plentiful. After the ties come off, there are also plenty of Caymanian team-building opportunities to keep delegates busy and inspired. From bioluminescent kayaking and kite-boarding lessons to swimming with the rays at Stingray City or learn-to-surf experience at Black Pearl Skate and Surf Park, there are a host of leisure pursuits to help shake the stress away.

In East End, one of the island’s most beautiful districts, The Reef offers a distinctly different destination for smaller groups of from ten to 50 people. The resort’s Manager Tom McCallum said that The Reef provides professionally managed meetings and a dedicated meeting coordinator, within a resort that specialises in offering simple relaxation, something which is proving to be a successful formula. Despite being tranquil, the resort is no more than a comfortable 45 minutes from the airport.

“The Reef has seen significant business growth from companies who meet each year in Cayman but seek a change in location and ambience whilst still providing the high level of meetings and resort experience they have come to expect in the Cayman Islands,” McCallum said.

Poppy Guloien, Director of Catering and Convention Services at the Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa said, “Our expertise is helping our clients hold effective, results-oriented meetings and events. We have several indoor and outdoor function spaces providing breathtaking views of the sugar white sand and turquoise water of Seven Mile Beach, concierge services and state-of-the-art amenities to meet every need. What better way to encourage attendance at a conference than to set it in a tropical paradise that’s easily accessible from several major city centres in the US?”

What Cayman has, that should see its corporate meetings and incentives product weather the current economic storm, is an attractive combination of diverse locations with exceptionally sophisticated facilities and services. Even at its most remote or unusual locations, there is plenty of technical expertise available and all of the necessary amenities.

There’s no denying that the current economy has changed the way we all do business. While cost-cutting is a grim reality that all businesses are now facing, the bigger issue is relationships. Hard times often call for simple measures and a return to business basics. While there’s no arguing that web events and teleconferencing can trim the bottom line, there’s also no stand-in for engaging in the human element of doing business. Forging relationships and growing market share may just be a short plane ride away.



The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman