October 30, 2020

LOST AT SEA: Cruise industry reaches “point of no return”


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Cruise ships dock in Cayman

Pronouncing the local cruise industry “dead”, Robert Hamaty director and founder of a private-sector tourism association, said yesterday Cayman’s competition had already triumphed, leaving George Town fatally crippled.

“It’s a fact,” he told iNews. “It has reached the point of no return. Our situation here is like the 1950s when we used canoes to tender ships in North Sound.

“We are so backward that everyone has jumped on the cruise bandwagon,” Mr Hamaty said, citing four ports in Mexico; two in Roatan, Honduras; Jamaican giant Falmouth; the Dominican Republic and “even Haiti has just announced one,” he said, where Royal Caribbean would invest $50 million, including a hotel, enabling visitors to spend between three days and four days, and “catch the next ship back”.

“Cayman used to be number four as a destination. I don’t know where we are now,” Mr Hamaty said,

The remarks by the ebullient head of the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism and president of Tortuga Rum company came in the wake of yesterday’s two-page statement by Cayman Islands Premier and Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush.

Hard on the heels of his 3-7 October attendance at the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association’s annual conference in Puerto Rico, and following his Saturday departure for a Shanghai financial-services summit, Mr Bush warned that, without cruise berthing, “Cayman’s cruise-tourist industry is in jeopardy”.

Cruise-line executives at the conference, he said, “were giving us a final chance”, hoping “we will have at least one pier operational
by 2013”

“If Cayman cannot do so,” he said, noting that 6,500-passenger Oasis-class ships “support other emerging destinations rather than Cayman,” George Town would “continue to be bypassed and excluded from that potential cruise business.”

Mr Hamaty said already two Oasis ships were operating in the region, with a third on the way. Accommodated in Nassau, he said, the ships dramatically outperformed anything in Cayman.

“It’s like night and day, and the [passenger] spend is unbelievable.” Mr Bush, he said, was “perfectly correct”, except that “we are not dying. We are dead.”

Experts estimate Cayman has lost “tens of millions of dollars” as ships bypass George Town, while rumours of British political obstruction abound, delaying the start of work.

Robert Hamaty

London, one analyst said “is looking at Cayman, and if the cruise dock costs $200 million and it doesn’t work, then they feel they have to pick up the tab.”

Executive Director of the Cayman Islands Tourist Association Trina Christian-Savage acknowledged that “we are in trouble”, estimating builders needed two years to complete the piers, and asking if anything could be done in the interim.

“We need a reality check. Could we start with one pier, and look at our tendering operations and what we can do to improve them?” she added.

Mr Bush is in Shanghai this week for the “China Offshore Summit” and a simultaneous Cayman Islands investment seminar on the side. Afterwards, he will tour Cayman’s Hong Kong offices, meeting a series of investors, finance managers and private-sector companies.

Prior to his Saturday departure, Mr Bush said he would conclude in November a formal agreement for port development and related infrastructure with Beijing’s China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC).

Press Secretary to Mr Bush, Charles Glidden, declined to comment on any scheduled meetings between the premier and CHEC, saying only he was “not sure about the itinerary”, but acknowledging that a meeting “is possible”.

Read Bush’s full statement here.


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