Cayman Islands may dial back on cruise visits once borders reopen

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An aerial view of the Cayman Islands.
An aerial view of the Cayman Islands.

Grand Cayman may reduce cruise traffic from pre-pandemic levels once its borders reopen, the Caribbean nation's Premier Alden McLaughlin said this week.

According to the Cayman Compass newspaper, McLaughlin said that the government had received a "clear signal" from both the business community and local citizens that they wanted fewer cruise passengers to visit the islands. In 2019, 1.8 million passengers visited Grand Cayman, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), making it one of the busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean.

The Cayman Islands is one of the few Caribbean islands still closed to U.S. visitors. It has no published timeline for reopening.

The Premier said that Grand Cayman may "cap the numbers so that our current system can accommodate them in a better way and the experience for those who do visit can be better."

He also said that the government will not proceed with an additional cruise berthing facility that had been proposed for its capital, George Town.  

McLaughlin said that Grand Cayman had learned to survive without cruise ships during the pandemic and would look at diversifying its tourism industry. He acknowledged that many people were unemployed or underemployed because of the collapse of the tourism industry during the pandemic. The FCCA reported that in 2018, cruise tourism contributed $224 million in direct expenditures in the Cayman Islands and was responsible for employing more than 4,600 of the islands 66,000 people.

"What I foresee, if we retain the government, is less focus on growing cruise tourism," he said, according to the report. "We need more balance and we need to not overwhelm the systems that we have by sheer volume of people."

According to the Cayman Compass, McLaughlin had strongly supported the additional cruise berthing facility, but the plan to build it was stalled by a group that collected enough signatures to prompt a referendum into whether the project should move forward. McLaughlin said both the referendum and the project were now off the table.

That group, Cruise Port Referendum Cayman, said the proposed cruise berthing facility would negatively impact the "economic opportunities, the way of life, and the natural Caymanian environment for generations to come." 

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