At the beginning of May, I was invited to participate as a speaker at the Cayman Islands Shipping Summit held during the first annual Cayman Maritime Week, an event which signifies an important broadening of Cayman’s economy as the islands look to generate an increase in business within our maritime industry.
This attempt at building on the existing three pillars of our economy – financial services, tourism and real estate – is important as far as real estate is concerned because any broadening of our service offering here in the Cayman Islands means an increased potential for new visitors who may enjoy these islands and ultimately want to call Cayman home, either full time or at least for part of the year. It will attract new segments of the population from differing areas of the world, everyone a possible new resident and a home owner in the making.
However, I believe that the broadening of any industry needs to be tempered by measured reflection and discussion as to the ultimate benefits for the islands. In particular, I was asked to speak on a panel discussing the development of the dock to enable the berthing of cruise ships.
Firstly, let me state that I have never disagreed with developing the cruise ship port. I am in favor of the development so long as it is done in a manner that does not harm the environment and is truly necessary, because it is a huge investment for such a small island as Grand Cayman. We should ensure that, as a result of any new development, our visitors, whether they are cruise ship or stayover visitors, should get a great experience when they arrive here. This will then make it more likely that they will return as repeat visitors, or even residents down the line. At the same time, any development of the port should not negatively impact the rest of us, residents and stayover visitors alike, especially as far as congestion is concerned.
In addition, I note a report by Business Research & Economic Advisors (BREA) called “Grand Cayman Cruise Berthing Facility: Potential Impact on Cruise Passenger Onshore Visitation and Spending,” prepared for the Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport.
This report states that the Cayman Islands is the fifth-largest cruise destination in the Caribbean and yet it is the only destination without a cruise berthing pier. The report states that, over the period 2009 to 2014, all the other destinations have seen growth in their cruise tourism product while Cayman has experienced a small decline. I think it is interesting to note that we still remain in the top five, and I attribute this very much to the safety and security which this jurisdiction offers our cruise ship visitors.
Unlike in other jurisdictions where cruisers are often quite segregated from the local community, when they alight, our cruise ship visitors are able to fully integrate within the Cayman community in our shops, restaurants, bars, beaches or attractions, and feel safe and secure – a very important selling point for Cayman.
I also believe we must carefully consider the wisdom of investing in such developments when the cruise industry is extremely cyclical with regards to benefits for the local economy, effectively creating jobs very much on a part-time basis, according to the schedules of the cruise ships.
Stayover visitors are a particularly important commodity for Cayman. They have been proven to put considerably more back into the economy per person than cruise ship visitors. Thus, to ensure they in particular have a brilliant time while they are here is an important point not to be ignored.
In my mind, we should be focusing on lengthening and strengthening our airport runway to make it easier for people from Europe to get here, as well as ensuring our overnight visitors enjoy a fantastic overall experience.
Dovetailing into this discussion of the expansion of our maritime industries, I believe the issue of providing moorings for mega yachts ought to be intrinsically woven into any discussion of the expansion of our port. Wooing very high net worth individuals to our shores with proper mooring facilities should be a high priority, because they can give back to the economy in so many ways, including the payment of fuel taxes, mooring fees, staffing, not to mention their spending once they come ashore. In turn, they too might then appreciate the fantastic lifestyle that the Cayman Islands affords its residents and then look to buying property themselves.
Unlike the Eastern Caribbean, where island-hopping is a popular pastime for yachters as they pass with ease from one island to another thanks to their close proximity, the Cayman Islands is isolated out in the Western Caribbean. So excellent mooring facilities need to be developed to attract these types of individuals to our shores.
Cayman’s real estate industry is currently buzzing with new development and truly excellent offerings for such wealthy individuals. While inventory continues to wane along the most popular, exclusive and therefore highly desirable Seven Mile Beach corridor, some incredible family homes are available in family-centric, exclusive places such as Crystal Harbour and Cypress Point, while several developers are creating some excellent brand new properties in the South Sound area. The islands have a great deal to offer investors and I believe it is vital that we are creative and inventive in finding ways to attract them as residents.