Hon. Kenneth Bryan, the Minister of Tourism for the Cayman Islands, addressed eTurboNews and other media at the Caribbean Tourism Organization conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Cayman yesterday. He gave an overview of the state of tourism for the Cayman Islands- and it looks good.
As the Minister of Tourism for the Cayman Islands, I am immensely proud to host this CTO and IATA conference.
To our international media, I’d like to thank you for putting your lives on hold for a week to join us in the Cayman Islands.
I hope that you will find the meetings engaging and informative, and I hope you write lots of great things about the conference and particularly about our Islands.
To our local media, thank you, too, for being here. It’s good to have you with us. Although you are much more familiar with our tourism industry, I hope that you too will learn something that perhaps you didn’t know before.
I am very happy to be kicking off the destination briefings, and I will start by presenting insights from our tourism visitation statistics to provide an idea of how our tourism industry is recovering as we, like all of our Caribbean neighbors, focus on rebuilding this sector.
I would like to use our time today to discuss the Cayman Islands’ tourism performance for the first half of this year. I will also outline how the industry has been trending and where we plan to be by year-end. And note, I said plan to be, not hope to be!
But first, I’d like to give a very brief overview of some of the distinctive and appealing attributes of our three beautiful Islands, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman.
Overview Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands is situated 480 miles south of Miami, which is just an hour’s flight away, and is close to our primary source market, the United States, making travel for our visitors quick and convenient.
Our two international airports are well served by some of the world’s leading airlines, and though we don’t observe Daylight Savings Time, local time is never more than an hour’s difference from Eastern Standard time.
More than 135 different nationalities reside within our shores, making us one of the most diversely populated islands in the Caribbean.
Aside from the friendliness of our people and the natural beauty of our surroundings, above and below the beautiful Caribbean Sea, our modern infrastructure and state-of-the-art communication systems place us on par with some of the most advanced countries in the world.
Tourism Advantage for the Cayman Islands
These are just some of the competitive advantages that make our jurisdiction stand out from anywhere else in the region.
When you add that we are politically stable and have no direct taxation – not on personal or corporate income, not on profits or gains from investments, not on properties or foreign exchange, it’s easy to understand why investors and tourists are drawn to our shores.
The Cayman Islands economy is driven by financial services and tourism, with the financial services sector being the dominant contributor. We currently rank as one of the world’s largest financial services providers, with the highest percentage globally of hedge funds domiciled within our shores.
Moving straight into the tourism performance results….
Between January and June 2022, the Cayman Islands welcomed over 114,000 stayover visitors, which represents 41% of the air arrivals recorded over the same period in 2019.
Between January and April, we moved from 6 to 12 to 23 to 25 thousand visitors, respectively, with April’s arrivals equating to 55% of April 2019. Visitation was moving in the right direction, with an upward trajectory, indicating that our tourism recovery was strengthening.
In June, arrivals were at the 26,000 mark, rising to over 32,000 in July. Our July arrivals represent 63% of where we were in July 2019.
I should note that 2019 is being used as the comparison because it was the last full year of travel before the onset of the pandemic. And it was also our best year in tourism, so we’re challenging ourselves by using the highest bar ever as our comparison.
So, where do we expect to be by the end of 2022?
What are we forecasting?
I have set the Department of Tourism a target of 40% of 2019’s tourism accommodation revenue.
We anticipate needing approximately 200,000 stayover visitors by 31st December 2022 to achieve this target. If my Department of Tourism delivers more than that, let’s just call it the icing on the cake!
But in all seriousness, judging by how the numbers are trending, I am confident that we are on target to deliver over a quarter million visitors!
Tourism Source Markets
Let’s take a look now at where our visitors are traveling from. In 2022 the USA remains our main source market, accounting for approximately 80% of stayover arrivals.
And our top three performing States are New York, with 11.0%, Texas, with 10.9%, and Florida, at 9.7%.
Although the majority of our visitors arrive from the USA, visitation from Canada in July was 8% higher in 2022 than in July 2019.
Analyzing Tourism Arrivals
When analyzing our results, it’s important to view them in context, particularly against the backdrop of the pandemic. Because of the swift and decisive action taken to combat the spread of Covid-19, our islands became known for having some of the strictest containment policies in the region, if not the world.
The government’s policy was to protect lives above all else, so we closed our borders to keep our residents safe.
We took care of our people for over a year without any tourism because we had our financial services sector to rely on. Looking back, we were one of the first Islands to close our borders and among the last to reopen. But all of that changed three weeks ago when the last of our remaining travel restrictions were finally lifted.
We noticed during our phased border reopening that each time travel restrictions were relaxed, there was a corresponding increase in visitor arrivals.
- This occurred in November 2021, when travel restrictions were first eased.
- It happened again in January 2022 when unvaccinated children were allowed to travel with their vaccinated parents.
- And we saw it once more in February when the mandate for LFT testing on days 2,5, and 7 after arrival was removed.
In June, when the mask mandate was removed and visitors no longer had to wear masks indoors or in aircraft, visitation for June peaked at 26,000 stay-over visitors.
Having removed all restrictions in August, we expect a similar impact on air arrivals, especially as we move into the winter season.
More important tourism data for the Cayman Islands
Our data shows that visitors are staying longer on our islands. This benefits the Hotels and businesses within our tourism sector, as it has a greater economic impact.
Our data also shows that 48.1% of our stayover guests are repeat visitors. This is 3.5% HIGHER than the same period in 2019.
Based on data from STR, which compares our Average Daily Rate in 2019 to 2022, we can see that room rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels.
We all know that the rate a Hotel can charge per night is driven by market forces. This tells us that for the first half of this year, there was a high demand for Hotel rooms, and travelers have been willing to pay more for the chance to vacation in the Cayman Islands after the challenges and stresses of COVID-19.
Another interesting fact highlighted by the data shows that our visitors’ average age is 43, which is aligned with our more affluent target audience.
Though we have a long way to go to get back to pre-pandemic arrivals, the month-on-month increases demonstrate that for every key performance indicator, the needle is moving in the right direction.
Airlift to the Cayman Islands
To borrow a phrase from my Director of Tourism, Mrs. Rosa Harris, ‘airlift is the oxygen in our tourism,’ and that’s something we always have in the back of our minds when speaking about the industry. Because without airlift, travelers have no way of getting to our beautiful islands to experience our amazing tourism product.
I am happy to say there will be a 1% increase in airline seats compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. The net growth in seats is driven in part by:
- Increased American Airlines connections through Charlotte and Miami,
- Southwest’s strong feeder markets in Texas,
- United’s growth in Washington D.C. and Newark
- And a new non-stop route from the Baltimore-Washington gateway.
This encouraging news is a sign of confidence in our destination by international airlines, especially when some destinations are experiencing reduced frequency.
Cayman Going after US West Coast Travelers and Beyond
I am also excited that on the 5th of November this year, our national airline, Cayman Airways, will launch a new, non-stop service to Los Angeles, California, with 160 seats on each flight. Once this service becomes operational, it will be a game changer for our destination.
Why? Because it will be easier for travelers from Los Angeles and other feeder markets, such as San Francisco and Seattle, to access our beautiful Country.
And they will be able to fly here in less time than it takes to get to Hawaii.
The Los Angeles route is serviced by our new Boeing 737-8 jet aircraft and will also provide more options for travelers from Asia and Australia.
This will help open up our destination to even more markets not being served. And because the new jets can fly for longer distances, it allows us to consider other unserved markets, for example, Vancouver.
This new service, coupled with the 1% increase in capacity, gives the Cayman Islands tourism industry reason to be optimistic about the 2022-2023 winter season and will help us to get back to our pre-pandemic visitation numbers.
Hotels, Resorts, Condos, Villas, and more accommodation in the Cayman Islands
Looking now at room stock which includes condos, villas, and Hotels, there are 7,161 rooms in the accommodations sector, shared across our three Islands as follows:
- 6,728 in Grand Cayman
- 268 in Cayman Brac
- 165 in Little Cayman.
Regarding actual properties, our accommodations sector comprises 23 Hotels, 612 apartments, and 316 guest houses.
New Hotel Developments in the Cayman Islands
Despite the pandemic, development in this sector has been ongoing, and there are nine properties in the pipeline, which includes five with completion dates ranging between 2023 and 2025.