It’s no secret that the US market is vital to Cayman’s essential tourism industry, but Canada, its quiet neighbour to the north, is poised to make some noise this fall. A new strategic alliance with one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, is part of an overall sustainable development plan by the destination to grow market share in Canada, and beyond.
Following what was undoubtedly one of the most difficult years for the tourism industry at large, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism is continuing to make strategic moves in its long-term vision for development. Canada has long been in Cayman’s top three performing tourism markets, but airlift continued to be the underlying factor to growing the market further.
It was with this in mind that the Cayman Islands worked to create a strategic relationship with WestJet Airlines, a carrier that has built its reputation on quality customer service and in recent years, has set its sights on becoming a dominant player in the Caribbean. Starting this fall, WestJet will begin non-stop service, three times per week, from Toronto to Grand Cayman, providing Canadian travellers with more choice in getting to the destination. While Air Canada remains a valued partner for the Cayman Islands, this new alliance provides a major opportunity to significantly grow the Canadian market beyond current levels.
While more non-stop airlift to the destination was the desired outcome for partnering with WestJet, there were other factors at play that underlined the need to take action. Research indicated that Canadians are fiercely brand loyal when it comes to many things – and choice of air carrier was no exception. Calgary-based WestJet has a strong loyalty with western Canadians, while Montreal-based Air Canada, enjoys a strong market share in the lucrative eastern markets. The Cayman Islands has historically drawn the majority of its Canadian travellers from eastern Canada and has enjoyed high load factors on its Toronto-Grand Cayman route. Surprisingly though, over 25 per cent of Canadians travelling to Grand Cayman come from Western Canada.
Not only will Canadians benefit from the competition between WestJet and Air Canada, but the connection from a number of Western Canadian cities through Toronto and onto Grand Cayman will make it easier to draw even more visitors from the west, a market we know provides considerable opportunity. And, with easy connection times from WestJet, this is still an attractive option for discerning travellers. As a result, the Canadian office has increased the advertising, PR and marketing presence in Calgary in anticipation of this growth.
Not surprisingly, Canadians are already seeing very competitive airfares heading into the winter season. Moreover, price value on lift has encouraged new package deals aimed at the dive sector, the likes of which have never been seen before in the market.
Marketing initiatives are already in place to build on this momentum with the dive market. WestJet Vacations, Canada’s fastest growing tour operator, is also expected to help develop the market with aggressive packaging in partnership with numerous Grand Cayman properties. A primarily package-driven market, Canadians have shown tremendous interest in packages from Air Canada Vacations, the tour operator arm of Air Canada. This summer, we experienced an increase in visitation from Canada as families took advantage of attractively priced packages and with the addition of packaging from WestJet this fall we are anticipating an even greater uptake as the service becomes established.
And it appears, we’re not the only ones to think so. The Conference Board of Canada, the nation’s leading research organisation that distributes statistics and knowledge about economic trends, recently published an unsolicited forecast that suggests Grand Cayman will experience double digit growth in visitation from Canada over the next few years, primarily due to the market expansion strategy that WestJet follows with new routes. Looking to WestJet’s track record with other Caribbean destinations, the CBoC suggests Grand Cayman will follow suit and experience significant growth. The Air Canada route is also anticipated to experience continued success moving forward.
While the US remains an incredibly important market to the Cayman Islands, Canada’s economy has been a bastion of strength throughout the turmoil of last year. Despite being tied heavily to the US market, the Canadian economy has weathered the storm extremely well. The nation has a healthy consumer confidence index and a high intention to travel to a sun destination this winter.
Furthermore, the meetings and incentive market is emerging again after a dormant period during the recession. Canadian companies are back to offering their employees reward travel and both WestJet and Air Canada are working to bring this market back to its former performance levels.
Route expansion and improved gateway connectivity are crucial to Cayman’s success moving forward in tourism. Consumers are very often sizing up two or more destinations at a time and ease in travelling is an important component in making their decision on where to spend their hard earned vacation dollars.
And while we have gained ground in Canada, we have also made headway in the US market with improved seasonal routes with Cayman Airways from both Washington and Chicago. Washington is one of the largest markets for us in the North East and the Windy City is also significant as one of the top American cities that account for a sizable portion of visitors to the Cayman Islands.
Not only are we looking to draw new visitors but we also want to bring back those who have visited us before, and with a non-stop flight, they are more likely to consider us again. The Cayman Islands visitor is someone who travels several times a year for leisure and business and simply doesn’t want to spend what little time they have for vacations on making difficult flight connections. They want the flight experience to be hassle free so they can be on the beach by midday, enjoying the destination and spending time with their family. What’s more, working with the private sector we have been able to incentivise these routes with special promotions for resort credits and other offers via hotel, restaurant and attractions partners.
In this new era of air travel where hardly anything is free to passengers anymore, Cayman Airways allows economy class passengers to check two bags for free, while business class passengers are allowed three free checked bags, within weight and size allowances. Their frequent flyer programme and modern service is a tremendous asset to the destination. Cayman Airways, and their continued efforts to create new routes and improve upon regular routes, has played a major role in strengthening our tourism product.
But as competition within the region continues to increase and travellers become ever more discerning with their choices, we must remain committed to improving and developing airlift. Creating strategic alliances with leading airlines around the world and sustainable growth via Cayman Airways will provide measurable change in tourism arrivals. Underlying our success is the ability to remain aggressive in the market, placing emphasis on airline relations while at the same time ensuring our marketing and promotional efforts provide maximum return on investment. In working with some of the world’s leading airlines, the Cayman Islands must continue to prove its relevance both in the Caribbean and as a world-class destination.