While on paper they may appear to contribute a relatively small percentage to overall visitor arrivals, the UK and European markets are nevertheless a vitally important component of the Cayman Islands tourism sector for a number of reasons.
Crucially, length of stay and visitor spend are both high. Visitors from the UK typically earn four week’s vacation time a year and consequently spend an average of 10 days on a single trip.
For many, a two week holiday is ‘de rigeur’, unlike our much valued North American friends, who Cayman predominantly as a short break destination. Indeed research has shown that in the UK, despite the economic downturn, the annual vacation with loved ones is becoming increasingly sacrosanct as daily life becomes ever more stressful in the work place, and if anything, the five star family market is growing.
Likewise, the romance market has boomed in the UK as couples head for the sanctity of marriage in turbulent times. Honeymoons with children are on the increase too. One of our travel partners in the UK, Turquoise Holidays, a honeymoon and luxury family holiday specialist has reported a 70 per cent growth in business at a time when many were struggling to make any sort of profit over the same period.
Time of visitation from Europe is also an important factor. Although winter sun is still a big draw, the main family vacation is often taken in the school summer holidays throughout July and August, a time when resorts and attractions particularly need the business.
We also know that the European markets are relatively resilient in times of crisis. Although arrivals figures have been dented with the global financial downturn, there is evidence that they are on the rise again, and indeed after crises such as Ivan and 9/11, the UK market was one of the first to bounce back. It is not for nothing that the Brits are said to have a stiff upper lip!
The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism has a dedicated and highly proactive sales and marketing office based in London which among other accountabilities, is responsible for conceptualising and coordinating promotions in the UK, across Europe and further afield. Donald McDougall, the Department of Tourism’s regional manager for Europe, heads up the team responsible for trade and consumer marketing which incorporates public relations and advertising.
Readers may recall that one of the headline-grabbing initiatives to come out of his office in recent years was the Chelsea Flower Show, one of the UK’s greatest society events (in 2009, Cayman won Gold and the President’s Award for Most Creative Garden, but more importantly generated reams of press coverage raising Cayman’s profile as far more than just another fly and flop vacation destination).
Overall, the scope of work in Europe is intense, not least because it is a highly complex market that depends in equal measure on travel trade partners, consumer interface, editorial coverage from visiting journalists, media relations, third party promotional work and creative advertising.
As Cayman does not have the luxury of several major hotel chains doing our international advertising for us – which incidentally puts the Island at a distinct disadvantage over some of our neighbouring countries – we definitely have to shout the loudest to be heard.
Although our focus is primarily on the UK due to the BA service (both direct and via Miami), continental and Central Europe both have potential for growth and this is expected to increase when interline agreements with our national carrier Cayman Airways come online.
Although resources are limited, every opportunity out of Europe is considered and weighed for its potential return on investment. For example, we will shortly be hosting a film crew from the Czech Republic, a new but potentially lucrative market for us, to make a 30 minute popular travel programme about Cayman, hosted by two of its top actors.
The sinking of the Kittiwake in January brought the world’s attention to our islands, and as a result the Cayman Islands has barely been out of the international dive media in Europe. This has given Cayman a major coup in terms of not just wreck diving, but in the whole sphere of eco-tourism generally – an area which so many of our tourism industry partners have embraced through the Green Globe Certification programme.
It is vitally important to keep this momentum going in the long haul markets where to a greater or lesser degree eco-tourism is regarded as the way of the future. We can look forward to a two pronged approach from our European office to this end.
The visiting journalist programme continues to reap phenomenal rewards in our target media. For example, a diverse group of writers hailing from all walks of life – notably non-dive publications – visited the islands in late September with a view to encouraging readers to try their hand at diving and snorkelling.
In addition, we will be hosting writers for the family market to the over fifties and solo women travellers, proving that Cayman ticks all of the boxes when it comes to conservation-conscious and potential underwater enthusiasts, and that it is never too late, too soon or too difficult to learn to dive or even just snorkel in Cayman’s warm, safe and colourful waters!
Needless to say, as with almost all European promotional activity, a trip to the sister islands will be incorporated. Island hopping is a dream holiday for city-dwelling Brits and Europeans and we aim to include a visit or reference to our Sister Islands in all media activity stemming out of Europe.
This links neatly with the first major new project to come out of UK in the new financial year. Celebrating 10 years of business, Responsibletravel.com is one of the UK’s leading marketing portals for destinations, operators, accommodation providers and attractions united by a particular interest in eco-tourism, wildlife, adventure and nature pursuits.
The Cayman Islands is forming an exciting new partnership with the organisation to develop a comprehensive and compelling Insider’s Guide to our country. The guide will be written by a leading British dive and travel writer, Tim Ecott, a veritable ambassador for Cayman and a regular broadcaster and writer about the islands, as well as a close ally with the Central Caribbean Marine Research Institute.
Once complete, the guide will also provide many of our smaller operators who have struggled to find a route to market a real platform from which to talk to a captive audience in the UK.
Cayman’s nature product continues to be a theme at a new consumer show that the Department of Tourism in Europe will be attending this coming fall.
The Wildlife Expo takes place over two days in London in October, and Don and his team will be extolling the wonders of Cayman’s nature and wildlife, joined by the saviour of the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, Fred Burton from the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme (BIRP), who will be conducting a special talk.
Wildlife Expo joins a long list of consumer shows that our European office exhibits at throughout the year, including the Dive Shows, Taste of London, and various regional holiday shows around Europe.
Towards the end of the year, the UK will also be launching its annual advertising campaign with a view to making a sustained impact in those opinion forming media that capture the imagination of Cayman’s demographic – namely the affluent family and fifty plus markets, with a strong bias towards the female, whom we know to be the primary decision maker.
The strap line ‘The Other Side of The Caribbean’ will continue to be used – playing not only on Cayman’s physical location, but also the fact that much of our cache and appeal to Europeans lies in the fact that we are off the beaten Caribbean track.
Unlike the US where online is the dominant booking channel, the travel trade is still a vitally important part of the booking process for long haul travel out of Europe, particularly for first time and family visitors. For much of this advertising, we will be working collaboratively with our tour operator partners to ensure wider but targeted distribution, an incentive to book and of course a compelling call to action.
It has become crystal clear to us in the last couple of years that, in some part due to our own very diverse product offering from gourmet to dive and from romance to nature, Cayman’s competitive set in the European markets is not just the other Caribbean countries, but lies as far afield as the Indian Ocean, Asia and Africa.
This of course has a bearing on how we position ourselves to potential visitors. With this in mind we are imminently about to undertake an exercise in the UK to establish precisely what our target markets perception is about Cayman and ultimately what they are looking for in a luxury, exotic or long haul holiday.
This will be the first time in memory that the European office has embarked on such a comprehensive programme of consumer research and the timing is well placed given that we have all seen a shift in booking behaviour as a result of the economic downturn.
This may well have a bearing on the way Cayman is positioned going forward but will at the very least ensure that rather than sitting on our laurels and relying on successes of the past, we can be confident, proactive and daring in our marketing approach to these valued and lucrative markets at a time when the global tourism industry becomes ever more crowded and competitive.