The development of more sustainable tourism in the Cayman Islands "will be the bedrock and cornerstone" of the destination's National Tourism Management Policy for the next five years, according to Charles Clifford, minister of tourism.

Clifford, who addressed delegates at Grand Cayman's seventh annual Tourism Conference last month, outlined several marketing strategies that would shift the emphasis from a purely economics-based approach to tourism to one that addresses and includes social and environmental ramifications.

"The goal to increase visitor arrivals remains," Clifford said. "There are airline seats to fill and the need to put heads in beds. Cruise arrivals will continue to be an important element of the Cayman Islands product mix, but they will not be allowed to increase unchecked or to continue growing to the detriment of the country."

Clifford said that the government will launch a project called "The Cayman Islands Project for the Tourism Sector" in December, a joint program of the private and public sectors that will update the Cayman Islands environmental legislation "to ensure we comply with treaty obligations and international agreements to which we are party."

August arrivals up 7.8%

Clifford reported that air arrivals through August tracked at 7.8% higher than the same month last year, totaling 209,462 visitors.

For the year through August, air arrivals were up 8.6% over 2006 at the same time. The goal for air arrivals in 2007 is 300,000.

Increases in the key markets over the past year have been: the U.S., 6.1%; Europe, 17.3%; and Canada, 11.9%.

Clifford described the visitor increases as "significant, particularly when we consider the struggles that many of our Caribbean neighbors are having with arrivals, and when we consider the economic issues which many Americans face in the housing crisis."

Diversification of visitor source markets to Europe and Canada has been part of the government's tourism strategy.

Clifford also reported that cruise arrivals in August were down 30% from August 2006, due to Hurricane Dean. Overall, cruise arrivals for the year to date are down  2.3%, totaling 1.3 million cruise passengers.

Plans to negotiate additional berthing facilities in Grand Cayman are in the works, according to Clifford.

The minister reported that the government committed funds of more than $1.5 million aimed at scholarships in tourism-related projects and programs aimed at fostering interest in tourism.

These include the Tourism Apprenticeship Training launched in August and the National Service Excellence Initiative, which was begun in May.

Other tourism initiatives include the Summer Splash program, which features a number of off-season packages and incentives for family travel.

The Cayman Islands hosted the National Football League's Quarterback Challenge for the first time, but the NFL canceled the airing of the event on ESPN because one of the participants, Michael Vick, was charged with staging dog fights. The Cayman Islands still has two years left in its deal with the NFL.

A romance and destination-wedding initiative promoted the Cayman Islands on various bridal Web sites, wedding shows and TV shows.

More attractions and activities will become available in Grand Cayman's eastern districts of Bodden Town, East End and North Side as part of a strategy to attract more cruise visitors to those parts of the island.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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