At the midway point in 2019, many Caribbean destinations have reported strong visitor numbers year-to-date, healthy hotel development growth and increases in airlift for the upcoming winter season.
Curacao, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten/Martin, St. Lucia, and Puerto Rico are among those islands.
Add the Cayman Islands to this list.
In a recent conversation with Moses Kirkconnell, deputy premier and minister of tourism for the Cayman Islands, he updated me on arrivals, hotel development and his projections going forward.
It's a story he likes telling. "We are very pleased with the trajectory of Cayman tourism," he told me.
The destination had record-breaking air and cruise arrival numbers in 2018 that topped 2.3 million. Arrivals growth that appears to be the pattern thus far in 2019, too. The Cayman Islands welcomed 40,591 arrivals by air in May, making it the highest May on record and the sixth consecutive month of record-breaking growth, according to Kirkconnell.
"While we are pragmatic with our expectations, we anticipate that this upward mobility will continue into the near future, in line with increases in airlift and capacity."
Total air arrivals in the first five months of the year totaled more than 232,000, up from 209,000 in the same period in 2018.
Cruise arrivals in the first five months, however, declined by 4.5% over the same period in 2018. The minister said that several ports in the eastern Caribbean, which had not been able to accept cruise calls for a time after the 2017 hurricanes, had since reopened.
"Many of those cruise ships opted to call in the Cayman Islands when other ports were closed," he said. "This incrementally increased our cruise arrivals, but as the ports reopened and cruise calls resumed to those destination, arrivals in Cayman declined accordingly."
The boom in hotel development is another factor in Cayman's showing in 2019, according to Kirkconnell. Room stock, comprised of a mix of hotels, condos, villas and guest houses, currently stands at 6,850 rooms across Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
"Several properties are at various stages of completion," he said. "I anticipate a 20% growth in tourism accommodations by 2021, when several new properties come on stream."
Newcomers now open include the 44-room Beach Suites and the 42-room Locale, on the Seven Mile Beach corridor.
The 351-room Grand Hyatt Grand Cayman Hotel & Residences along Seven Mile Beach is slated to debut in 2021; the Curio Collection by Hilton will open an 80-room beachfront resort on the edge of George Town in late 2021; and Mandarin Oriental will plant its flag in Bodden Town on Grand Cayman's south coast, with 100 rooms and 89 residences in 2021.
Kirkconnell said that Airbnb, with more than 350 listings, "has been a welcome addition to our current room stock. These accommodations allow our visitors alternative offerings and a chance to experience nontraditional tourism environments."
Cayman Airways, which launched a nonstop flight from Denver to Grand Cayman in March, is currently serving the route with a 737-300. The carrier was the first to ground its fleet of the Boeing 737 Max 8s earlier this year, which was going to serve the Denver route. The Grand Cayman-Denver flight is operated by charter carrier Eastern Airlines, using a 767-300 widebody aircraft.
Southwest launched its nonstop service from Baltimore in June.
Kirkconnell said he expected that this increased lift on the new routes will bring the destination closer to U.S. travelers and stimulate travel from the two new gateways.
The "Dream in Cayman" campaign was launched in March to showcase the country's natural beauty, its reputation as a luxury vacation destination and its diversity of offerings for visitors. Each campaign ad carries a link to the Cayman Islands website and a heading called Plan Your Trip, which links to listings of Cayman Travel Specialists.
"We're eager to showcase the natural beauty of the Cayman Islands and we're very pleased with the campaign's success thus far," he said.