Why Build the Cruise Berthing Facility?

Millions of people from across the world arrive on our beautiful shores each year. No matter whether they come for a day, a week or a month, they all come to experience our famous spirit of ‘Caymankindness’. These visitors spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year and support thousands of jobs. With tourism being one of the two essential pillars of our economy, this government works hard to improve the experience of those who vacation in the Cayman Islands in order to protect the industry, and those who depend on it, for the long-term. Therefore, the government has prioritised the upgrade of vital tourism infrastructure such as Owen Roberts International Airport. With the terminal expansion now complete, arriving and departing passengers are met with a modern, efficient and attractive space which better reflects the experience of holidaying in the Cayman Islands. The next phase is to extend the runway to facilitate the arrival of larger aircraft.

Cruise Passenger Expectations

In considering how the experience of the day tripper who arrives on a cruise ship can be improved, the evidence suggests that passengers greatly prefer the convenience of docking at a pier. Berthing facilities allow passengers to walk on and off the ship rather than waiting for tender boats to ferry them back and forth. Across the Caribbean, all of the Cayman Islands’ competitors have constructed piers to reflect the tastes of cruise passengers and given them a better arrival and departure experience.

In addition to the construction of the proposed cruise berthing facility, this government is pursuing a wider revitalisation project for George Town. This plan will not only facilitate a seamless experience for day trippers but will also greatly improve the town for those who live and work there by improving traffic management, creating a space where people will want to shop, eat and socialise, bringing more commercial opportunities to local people. You can read more about these plans here.

Without piers, mega-class ships cannot come to the Cayman Islands

Some question whether Grand Cayman needs a cruise berthing facility? Cruise arrivals are reaching near record levels, the argument goes. But there are worrying trends coming over the horizon for the industry.

The trend in the Caribbean is towards larger ships that have a capacity in excess of 5-6,000 passengers. The beginnings of this trend were first seen in 2009 when Royal Caribbean took delivery of the Oasis of the Seas, which at the time was the world’s largest cruise ship with a maximum passenger capacity of 5,400. The following year, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas arrived. Two inches longer than her sister ship but with the same passenger capacity; Allure stole the mantle.

Two more Oasis class ships followed. Harmony of the Seas was delivered in 2016 carrying 5,479 passengers and the following year Symphony arrived, with a maximum capacity of 6,680. A fifth is due in Spring 2021.

With passenger numbers on such a large scale it is simply not feasible to tender these ships and Grand Cayman has consequently never appeared on the itineraries of these ships.

The world’s largest cruise line company Carnival has so far been slow to build large ships. However, they now have nine on order and have been clear that they too will only be docking their large ships where there are berthing facilities.

For years the Cayman Islands have been ommitted from existing cruise ship itineraries and without a berthing facility, that will not change. The construction of the proposed cruise berthing facility is essential to securing the future of cruise tourism to Grand Cayman and this government is committed to taking the necessary action to ensure that the Caymanian cruise industry does not go into decline due to our lack of adequate, modern infrastructure.

Balancing out passenger numbers

As well as securing the future of cruise tourism, the construction of the berthing facility will allow for passenger arrivals to be more evenly spaced out across the week and year. At present, the number of cruise ships docked in George Town harbour is highly variable – there are days with no cruise ships and days with as many as six or seven in harbour. Balancing out passenger numbers would be advantageous to businesses that serve cruise passengers, as well as George Town residents and workers. It would also mean that an increase in passenger numbers could more easily be accommodated because the flow of arrivals would be steady.

This strategy has already proven to be successful in our stay-over tourism sector. The previous high winter season and low summer season, categorized by such low occupancy rates, Hotels and restaurants frequently closed for weeks at a time, has given way to a steady influx of visitors year round. The stabilisation of stay-over arrivals across the year has been achieved by promoting summer deals for families and actively encouraging conferences, sporting and musical events to pick up the slack and put ‘heads in beds’ during traditionally low periods. The end result being more stable employment for hospitality workers, more balanced occupancy for Hotels and businesses and higher revenue for government which boosts the economy.

The proposed cruise berthing facility provides the means for achieving balanced growth and greater stability in the cruise industry.

Providing jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for Caymanians

Additionally, it allows for the jobs of 4,500 Caymanians and their family members who rely on cruise tourism for their livelihoods to be protected. It also ensures that $200 million in cruise passenger spending continues to be deposited to our Treasury each year. Once constructed the piers will bring additional benefits too; global financial consultants PwC project that the net economic benefit will amount to $245 million and an additional 1,000 jobs are forecast to be created by the opportunities that the berthing facility will bring.

This is good news for those who work in cruise and reassuring for young people who are thinking about a future career in hospitality.

Minimising the environmental impact

Even though the need for the berthing facility is self-evident, this government is not, and has never been, committed to building the piers come what may. First, there was the caveat that if Seven Mile Beach was going to be negatively impacted, the project would stop. The environmental assessment conducted by Baird confirmed that Seven Mile Beach would not be harmed and their results are consistent with the findings of an earlier study undertaken for the Department of Environment.

Secondly, government agreed that the piers could be built in deeper water to keep the dredge pocket at a minimum and reduce the environmental effects as far as possible; and a coral relocation programme was included as a requirement. Construction of any large scale infrastructure project usually entails some degree of environmental impact, and it is governments job to weigh the delicate cost-benefit analysis and determine whether the socio-economic benefits outweigh other regrettable but unavoidable impacts.

That is what this government has done. In addition to making that decision and approving the project moving forward to the procurement stage, the best financial deal possible has been secured, which will allow the piers to be constructed and our cargo port to be expanded without the need for government loans, bonds or guarantees.

The need to expand and modernise the cargo port

George Town harbour is Grand Cayman’s only commercial port facility and, as an island nation, it is the hub of our commercial and economic activity. But the fact is, the port is 40 years into its 50-year lifespan and is feeling the strain of age and over-capacity. The facility is now too small to adequately handle the volume of business that we are receiving.

The cruise berthing facility project is not just about securing the cruise industry, but is also about providing this country with a modern and efficient cargo port that is capable of competently handling current and future volumes of imported goods.

By supporting this project, you are helping to ensure that our Islands will have the means to continue growing, developing and offering jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to Caymanians, both now and in the future.

If you agree, Support the Port and SupPORTourTOURISM.