Tourism in the Cayman Islands is set to break records in 2018, with November stay-over numbers up 11.2 per cent year-to-date and cruise visitors expected pass the 1.9-million mark, not seen since 2006. With further growth projected for the destination in 2019, Grand Cayman faces a challenge in finding a way to balance the increase in volume of visitors without impacting the quality of their experience.
This challenge is at the heart of the draft National Tourism Plan prepared by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and released for public consultation last summer. The need to diversify tourism attractions and disperse visitors beyond Seven Mile Beach is a recurrent theme throughout the document, produced with input from stakeholders across public and private sectors.
“As a major investor in Cayman’s tourism product, we share the desire for a plan that will ensure future growth is sustainable and well-managed,” says Mark VanDevelde, Dart’s chief executive officer. “In the public sector, Government is facilitating growth by expanding the airport, adding new aircraft and routes, and moving forward with plans to upgrade the port facilities downtown. In the private sector, we also have a role to play in enhancing the attractiveness and long-term competitiveness of the destination.”
The opportunity for thoughtful development in the Barkers area of West Bay is a case in point, says VanDevelde. At Barkers, he sees an opportunity to attain the sought-after balance between environmental preservation and development.
Dart has plans to introduce beach amenities near Villas Pappagallo, outside of the area proposed for a national park at the eastern end of the peninsula. The concept is similar to Rum Point, where visitors and local residents can come to swim, eat and relax on the beach. Approval of a coastal works licence application to install a dock would also allow small-boat operators to offer snorkel tours, while the removal of a section of turtle grass would aid swimming in the near vicinity.
Local businessman Handel Whittaker, owner of Calico Jack’s on Seven Mile Beach, hopes to relocate to Barkers when his current lease expires.
“A new tourism amenity is desperately needed to ensure we can manage current visitor numbers and create another option for residents to enjoy, especially on the weekends,” Whittaker says. “This represents a significant opportunity for the West Bay community in terms of job creation, business opportunities and making Barkers a safer area
The volume of visitors to Seven Mile Beach has prompted tourism stakeholders to look for alternative venues, including an approach to Dart for interim use of the Camana Bay beach, while long-term plans are under review as part of the overall master plan for Camana Bay.
A planning application for temporary structures on the site of what was formerly the Coral Caymanian Hotel was submitted in December to create a pop-up beach bar and restaurant that could open as early as spring.
“It’s an innovative way to quickly increase capacity on Seven Mile Beach today with minimal impact on the site,” says VanDevelde. “It involves customised shipping containers, which are used around the world for pop-up restaurants and have the added advantage of the ability to be moved and repurposed whenever needed.”
Dart will lease the property to a local operator for a short term and the facility will cater to both locals and visitors. Further details are expected to be announced later this month.
Another Dart property which could see activation in the near-term is Barefoot Beach in East End.
“We have been approached by a third party with an interesting proposition for an eco-resort,” says VanDevelde. “There is low environmental impact as the buildings are pre-fabricated and leave very little footprint when removed. It aligns with the National Tourism Plan’s strategy to attract more visitors to the eastern districts and would diversify our tourism product.”
On Seven Mile Beach, Dart is also preparing to complete the upgrade to facilities at Public Beach as the final component of the wide-reaching NRA agreement, the US$800-million economic stimulus package that saw the creation of Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and the extension of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway from West Bay to George Town.
At Public Beach, new volleyball courts, a dedicated space for vendors and expanded parking are all part of the $3-million improvements planned for the area.
“Dart is committed to sustainable economic growth in the Cayman Islands,” says VanDevelde. “Tourism is one of the main pillars of our economy and we continue to explore partnerships and consider investment opportunities that build Cayman’s reputation as a premier destination for the affluent traveller.”