The Cayman Islands has a gold-plated reputation, but a number of new improvements and capital investments that will buff up the shine on this Caribbean paradise are in the works. On Grand Cayman, the main airport is under redevelopment, the most congested roads are being widened to ease traffic concerns, and the revitalization of downtown George Town has been proposed. These improvements may help add to the rise in arrivals—the number of visitors increased 11 percent between 2013 and 2014, and 2015 saw the highest recorded number of air arrivals and the best year for cruise arrivals since 2007, according to the department of tourism.
This small Caribbean nation is made up of three islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. The Cayman Islands is an offshore financial and banking center (around 80 percent of the world’s hedge funds are registered here), and the government takes tourism and preserving the islands’ natural beauty and rich marine life just as seriously. Tourism has been growing steadily here for the past 30 years, but with the creation of the National Trust, in 1987, the Cayman Islands made preserving its historic and cultural heritage, as well as protecting the native flora and fauna, a priority. From safeguarding the endangered blue iguanas to conserving the fragile coral reefs that surround the islands, the government and hospitality industry, investors and developers are committed to ecotourism. “This is a friendly country that has focused investment on the tourism industry,” says Eugenio Macouzet, managing director, Caribbean, of RCI business development. “All stakeholders are interested in growth; however, they are very conscious that growth has to be planned and controlled to avoid affecting the ecosystems and the beauty of the islands.”
RCI’s first affiliation in the Cayman Islands was in the mid-1980s, and there are currently five RCI® affiliated resorts in the country. For the vacation ownership industry, the Cayman Islands’ product has remained fairly unchanged through the years, with some fixed and some floating formats. The people purchasing timeshares here have a love for the islands and for global travel in general. “The biggest change has been the continuous increase in the quality of accommodations and service, and lately the presence of global brands entering the market,” Macouzet says. “In the short term, I see it remaining a traditional European plan destination for more-affluent tourism.” Currently, vacation ownership operations consistently have the highest occupancy rates on the islands, according to Macouzet.
The Cayman Islands is seeing a rise in visitors every year, and investment in infrastructure is growing to serve them better. In March of last year, a $55 million expansion project was begun at Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA), which serves Grand Cayman in the capital,
George Town. The airport will more than double in size, from 77,000 square feet to 207,000 square feet, and add retail and restaurants, larger lounges and customs areas, and additional gates. Overall, the airport will be able to accommodate close to 2.5 million passengers by completion, in 2018. In addition, the runway will be expanded, first with a 900-foot extension of the current 7,000-foot runway, which will allow 777 model-number aircraft to land there. “This will allow us to accommodate more travelers on an annual basis, and along with increased tourism, room stock will underpin the business-development support for new airlift,” says Rosa Harris, director of tourism for the Cayman Islands. “This positions the Cayman Islands to attract additional airlift from existing and new carriers.”
In addition to the airport redevelopment, key roads into and out of George Town have been widened with the addition of traffic lanes and turning lanes in order to ease congestion, part of the government’s $27 million scheme to improve traffic around the metro area. This will also give a boost to the government’s proposed revitalization of downtown George Town.
Tourism continues to increase year over year, and projects like these will attract more visitors. “The Cayman Islands continues to invest in infrastructure, with important projects, like airport improvements, roads, lifestyle projects, international PR campaigns and security,” Macouzet says. “Because of these factors, many major developments have been announced.” As of January the total room stock for all three islands is 5,449 rooms, according to the department of tourism, but several new hotels with residential units are coming online, including the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa, which will open in November. Arnold Palmer is developing a PGA championship course and resort called Ironwood Cayman, set to open in 2018.
Resorts are ready
Properties like Wyndham Reef Resort and Coral Sands Resort are continually renovating and improving their guest rooms, public areas and overall service. The management of Coral Sands Resort was awarded to Defender Resorts in 2007, and each year the company completes a new project, like adding walk-in showers to all the bathrooms and French doors to the patios. A new floating dock allows guests to swim out into the water for a snorkeling jaunt without injuring any marine life. Overall, the unique resort is small and intimate. “Many of the exchangers we host become new members because of the personal service we provide,” says Harry Lynch, general manager of Coral Sands Resort.
At Wyndham Reef Resort, renovations started just over a year ago, tripling the size of the lobby and redecorating all the villas and outdoor furniture and sitting areas. “We are the only property that can claim that all our villas are on the waterfront with uninterrupted views of the beach and the sea,” says Gaetan Babin, resort director. There are a limited number of vacation ownership resorts overall in the Cayman Islands, which makes their location highly desirable, and many members return year after year. “Timeshares and vacation ownership provide a stable and long-term benefit to the Cayman Islands’ tourism industry,” Harris says. “The commitment through these fractional-ownership models supports sustained visitation and increased brand awareness.”
The government is also committed to timeshares and ownership, with a draft timeshare bill that seeks to create a defined framework for the sector. It is currently being reviewed by local stakeholders and ARDA-ROC.
Framed for the future
As tourism numbers continue to rise, RCI is working to promote and develop the vacation ownership industry in the Cayman Islands in two main ways. RCI supports and attends many regional conferences, working closely with developers and investors, and it promotes the Cayman Islands inventory within the RCI exchange network. In February 2016, RCI cosponsored the Legends Tennis event, which immediately followed the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit, at the 500-acre Camana Bay development, on Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. A model of new urbanism, it has walkable residential neighborhoods, a town center, schools, offices and a marina.
Vacation ownership in the Cayman Islands is a loyalty product that has very good repeat tourism, which Macouzet expects to continue into the future. “The owners of tomorrow will continue to be people who want a luxurious beach house without the headaches of full-time ownership, and people who love to travel and experience secluded Caribbean beaches,” Macouzet says. “I believe future buyers will be diverse and that there is room for growth in both the luxury sector, with formats appealing to affluent consumers, and in the traditional vacation ownership segment. I can see potential for RCI and for The Registry Collection®, the leading luxury exchange program.” While there has been a boom in investment, Macouzet sees room to expand in residential, retirement communities and medical tourism, possibly increasing the number of RCI affiliates. “I foresee growth being a niche play, rather than massive volume.”
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