For more than four decades, cruise ship passengers have made a vital contribution to Cayman’s tourism industry.
But without a proper cruise berthing facility, pro-port advocates say the next generation of mega cruise ships, and the affluent passengers they attract, will pass the Cayman Islands by.
“I’ve been in business in the George Town area for 20 years plus, and things were doing quite well until the advent of the oasis class from Royal Caribbean,” said retailer Noel March.
He told Cayman 27 his business took a turn for the worse when Royal Caribbean added an oasis class ship to its Western Caribbean itinerary, taking his best customers to other destinations.
“My business was peaking at the point where that ship came online, and like many other businesses in George Town over the past 10 to 15 years, went into decline,” explained Mr. March. “Ultimately I had to close my main business down five years ago.”
Like Royal Caribbean, Mr. March said other cruise lines are trending towards the new mega-ships, and he said these ships don’t tender.
“We need jobs, we need business opportunities for the little guy, and there’s a whole lot of them that are made available through cruise tourism,” said Mr. March.
He told Cayman 27 the cruise berthing facility would ensure the hundreds of Caymanians who depend on cruise tourism for their livelihoods aren’t left high and dry.
“There are a whole lot of ‘mom and pops’ out there that depend on cruise tourism,” he said.
While critics have bemoaned a lack of transparency surrounding the project, Mr. March credited government for sticking with the procurement process.
As for ongoing efforts to trigger a people-initiated referendum, he said the cruise berthing issue has already been settled at the polls – twice.
“The PPM ran on it in 2013 under their manifesto, they founded a majority government, and the current administration is formed by majority of PPM, and the individuals who form the balance of that Unity government as it is called, also championed cruise tourism,” said Mr. March.
He told Cayman 27 as the country’s population grows, it can’t afford to lose a pillar of its tourism industry.
“Why not create jobs so that everybody can get an opportunity,” he said.
Mr. March said the design/build/finance/maintain model government is perusing is a proven financing model – one that puts ‘skin in the game’ for the cruise lines.