The Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory, encompasses three islands in the western Caribbean Sea. Grand Cayman, the largest island, is known for its beach resorts and varied scuba diving and snorkelling sites. Cayman Brac is a popular launch point for deep-sea fishing excursions. Little Cayman, the smallest island, is home to diverse wildlife, from endangered iguanas to seabirds such as red-footed boobies.
While the population of the Caymans is less than 60,000, the islands host over two million visitors a year, so tourism is a major source of employment and foreign exchange.
The following is a written response to questions posed recently by Business View Magazine to Tiffany Dixon-Ebanks, Executive Director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA).
Can you tell us a little about the history of the Association? What was the need that the Association felt had to be filled? Did the mission change over the years? What is the current mandate of CITA?
CITA was formed in March 2001 through an amalgamation of the Cayman Tourism Alliance and the Cayman Islands Hotel and Condominium Association. The founding members saw the need to have one unified tourism body with the various board members representing individual sectors such as, accommodations, attractions, watersports, restaurants, retail, and transportation. Over the years the mission has remained quite consistent with each sector leader bringing a unique perspective to tourism issues that arise throughout the year. The CITA Board and Executive Staff work together to actively promote the continuing improvement and development of Cayman’s tourism industry through the exchange of information, government relations, training and education, marketing, and events. Overall, CITA’s mission is to provide leadership, guidance, and appropriate services for the benefit of its members; thereby contributing to a viable and sustainable tourism industry.
What makes your location unique from a travel, tourism, and hospitality perspective?
One key trait that truly sets our islands apart from other Caribbean destinations in terms of travel, tourism, and hospitality is our ‘CaymanKind’ of hospitality. The earliest visitors to the shores of the Cayman Islands recognized the exceptional friendliness of the Caymanian people, which is inherent to our culture and remains true to the present day. While our hospitality teams, whether at a restaurant, hotel, or attraction, work together to ensure that the visitor experience is geared towards the highest customer service, the community at large appreciates our visitors. We understand that each individual that a visitor meets in Cayman from any walk of life or in any occupation will play a unique role in their overall Cayman experience and we take pride in a sense of hospitality that is grounded on genuine kindness and friendliness. That means we treat visitors with kindness and care making them feel like they can truly relax here.
As far as the travel experience, there is ease of access from the US and other destinations to our islands, with various flight routes being introduced strategically. As a destination, there are varying stakeholder groups who aim to provide smoother transit for visitors and locals. We not only take pride in and highlight our own Caymanian culture; we also pride ourselves in having such a diverse society. We have over 100 different nationalities represented on the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman, and that means our visitors get a taste of both local and international experiences here. We have some of the best diving and beaches in the world, and have received international praise for our beautiful reefs and vibrant marine life.
What are some hot topics and trends for the local tourism market?
With a growing number of stayover guests, the Cayman Islands Government has embarked on a pivotal expansion and renovation of the main airport, Owen Roberts International Airport, on Grand Cayman and has expansion plans for the smaller international airport on Cayman Brac. There is expansion and improvements underway on several of Grand Cayman’s major road arteries. With its commitment also to cruise tourism, the Government continues in the research and design for an enhanced port harbor and experience in George Town, the country’s capital.
Building on decades of condo accommodations for the independent style visitor and outstanding presence of internationally respected hotels such as the Grand Cayman Marriott, Westin Resort and Spa, and The Ritz-Carlton, the destination is also experiencing an increase in luxury vacation homes and villas. We have also most recently welcomed the opening of the Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa, which is rapidly earning regional and international accolades. We are also anticipating the grand opening of the new Margaritaville Beach Resort this year, which will offer a fun-themed resort experience for its guests, and are looking forward to the ground breaking for The Four Seasons hotel.
Food, arts and culture are growing trends in our islands. Our visitors are looking for more new unique experiences; it is not just about escapism and the sand, sea, and sun appeal of a tropical island. As the culinary capital of the Caribbean, we offer more than our beautiful beaches and warm hospitality. The culinary industry is exponentially expanding, and food-related events are building in popularity across the islands and throughout the year. We have our annual Taste of Cayman Food and Drink Festival, CITA’s biggest fundraiser, which follows the internationally coveted Cayman Cookout. New on the scene for just two years is The Jamaica Observer & Best Dressed Chicken Table Talk Food Awards. When it comes to the arts, the Cayman Islands Film Festival should not be overlooked.
Medical tourism is a growing sector in our islands. Health City Cayman Islands, as per their original plans and business model, foresee their Accommodations coming on stream in the near future to facilitate more overseas patients from the region and North America.
What are some challenges the local tourism industry faces?
In any industry, there will always be new challenges that will require innovative solutions in order to continue positive advancements. For the Cayman Islands, our thriving Tourism Industry presents its own unique sets of challenges from year to year. Issues such as sustainable development, and constantly increasing visitation, present positive challenges that have pushed the islands forward with the planning and development of appropriate infrastructure upgrades as well as implementation of important government policies that will best serve locals and visitors.
The continuous growth in visitation to the Cayman Islands has led to the much anticipated expansion of Grand Cayman’s, Owen Roberts International Airport. Among the many carriers that fly into Grand Cayman, Southwest Airlines is a recent addition to the direct carrier list and it is anticipated that this will open up travel opportunities. The Airport Operations Committee is working closely with customer service teams to ensure that during airport renovations. All is done to mitigate the effects of the construction in the interim. Brian Krug, Chairman of the Airport Operators Committee (AOC) and CITA Board Director, expressed, “In the most recent AOC meetings there are reports of positive feedback from passengers of numerous airlines, which is a direct result of the investment made into ensuring that the transitional phase of the airport renovations project is running smoothly. Additional airport personnel have been hired to help manage customer relations, and the renovations are on schedule; good progress is being made.”
What are some examples of best practices you’ve seen from local, tourism-supported businesses?
CITA member businesses strive to provide guests with authentic experiences during their stay. Business owners and managers tend to stay in tune with international trends in order to remain competitive, engaging in training and human capital to continue to remain current and relevant. Every watersports operator business, upon joining CITA’s membership, signs an extensive Watersports Guidelines document. With this, members commit to high standards in terms of general safety and abiding by certain principles in serving clients.
What are some top destinations? What can tourists expect when they go there?
Visitors to the Cayman Islands will be experience a relaxed yet cosmopolitan atmosphere with an island feel. Along the famous Seven Mile Beach, visitors can partake in various activities, all within walking distance or a short taxi ride, or choose to do little to nothing and simply relax on the beach. One can indulge in shopping, dining, and socializing at Camana Bay, or venture down the strip to try one of the many restaurants and bars, each with their unique vibe. You can also go on a boating excursion to Stingray City (a top “must do”) or spend a few hours at The Turtle Centre or at the National Museum to learn about Caymanian heritage and culture.
There are plenty of options to unplug and unwind island-wide, and Northside and East End in Grand Cayman are sometimes considered our Caymanian cultural hubs, with some of the best local cuisine you can get right on the side of the road. It is where island time really kicks in. Starfish Point, Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park, bioluminescent tours, Rum Point, mangrove tours, and the spectacular Crystal Caves are just some of the experiences in East End and Northside that you can engage in.
Our sister islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, provide an even more laid-back environment for those looking for an even slower pace. Feeling adventurous? Cayman Brac is home to many caves with rich history and the Bluff; a cliff with amazing views. You can unwind in a cozy guesthouse near the ocean with hammocks under shady trees and go exploring at your leisure. You can truly experience the essence of quaint island living on our sister islands.
What does the landscape look like for the industry over the coming decade? How will CITA continue to be a viable voice for the industry?
This year of 2017 we honour and celebrate Tourism in the Cayman Islands, which commenced with the National Heroes Day official ceremonies and honors, held on the public holiday this past January 23rd, by which the country honoured the steadfast contributions of over 400 pioneers and upcoming trailblazers in our tourism Industry. While we celebrate the past, we are also preparing for the future. The Government, in consultation with the private sector, will soon finalize and adopt a National Tourism Plan that will serve in guiding the advancement and management of tourism over the long term. The developments, both public and private, over the next decade will shape the landscape for our tourism industry for decades to come. As we anticipate growth in visitation with both stayover guests and cruise visitors and as we expand our physical infrastructure, we seek to manage that growth without comprising our visitors’ experiences.
As a non-profit membership association, CITA’s role includes government relations and initiatives, advocacy, promotion, and coordination on behalf of our members so the industry can continue to thrive. CITA’s advocacy and member collaboration on matters pertinent to tourism and our tourism related businesses are vital in maintaining a robust industry, beneficial to all stakeholders. CITA will continue to provide a platform to voice and to collaborate for and amongst our members and ultimately in the interest of all tourism stakeholders and the country at large.
If you were writing a profile on the Association, what are the salient points that you would like a reader to take away from it?
CITA’s Board of Directors is comprised of 15 dedicated individuals; all who work in privately owned businesses in various sectors of the tourism industry. They are nominated and elected by the membership as voluntary members who lead and support the work of the Association. Restaurants, watersports, hotels, condominiums, tourism transport, cruise, land based attractions, and allied (retail and financial services, media, entertainment, etc.) are the sectors represented on our Board. Each board member acts as a representative and advocate for his or her own sector in the tourism industry for all three islands. They know firsthand the issues that affect businesses in their related sectors, as well as the destination, in general. While they work to find solutions, they also identify opportunities and seek collaboration amongst the sectors, government and the business community at large. Not all matters will have consensus across the association but the professionalism, passion, autonomy, and commitment to Cayman’s overall tourism successes by the CITA leadership ensures that all challenges and opportunities are thoroughly vetted, which is to the ultimate benefit of all tourism stakeholders.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Cayman Islands Tourism Association
WHAT: A non-profit association representing over 250 tourism-related businesses in the Cayman Islands
WHERE: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands