Caymans minister: Uptick in airlift key to healthy peak season

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Charles Clifford, minister of tourism for the Cayman Islands, remains upbeat about the coming winter season, despite lowered expectations in the Caribbean in terms of visitor arrivals and hotel occupancies.

Clifford's mantra is that "challenge presents opportunities," and he intends to maximize those opportunities to boost arrivals and hotel stays in the peak season.

The financial crisis poses a challenge to tourism locally, regionally and globally, according to Clifford.

"As a destination, we are well-positioned to weather what has been described as the perfect storm," he said, pointing to the timing of the economic downturn as well as the aviation cutbacks that preceded it.

He cited the Caymans' proximity to the U.S. and additional airlift this winter as factors that will help the destination's tourism industry perform at least as well as it did last winter.

"We are grateful that we have a national flag carrier that will take us through the season and ensure that we have economic continuity," Clifford said.

Cayman Airways plans to launch twice-weekly, year-round service to Grand Cayman from Washington Dulles, a new market for the carrier, on Wednesdays and Saturdays on Dec. 13 and will relaunch Chicago service Dec. 17, with two nonstops a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. Initially, the carrier is taking reservations for flights departing through April 22.

Cayman Airways currently offers seasonal service from Tampa, year-round service with four weekly flights from New York Kennedy and year-round flights from Miami.

The carrier's expanded airlift will help "to get our clients here, and we're marketing the carrier's U.S. gateways and schedules aggressively, because we are well-positioned to benefit from the closer-to-home rationale of the U.S. visitor," Clifford said.

He emphasized that the primary objective for tourism officials and those marketing and promoting the Cayman Islands this winter "is to ensure that our visitors and potential visitors have convenient, affordable and reliable air access to our country."

In addition to expanded airlift, there are a number of incentives and packages, including up to $400 in resort credits ($300 for a three-night and $400 for a four-night stay at participating properties) for passengers flying Cayman Airways from Chicago or Washington.

Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman guests flying from either gateway receive a $100 per-night credit with no minimum-stay requirement.

Other partners include US Airways Vacations, which offers packages at seven properties on Grand Cayman, several of which run throughout the winter season.

The destination's website at www.caymanislands.ky lists numerous deals targeted at specific niche markets, including family; weddings and honeymoons; sun and sea; scuba and dive; and nature and adventure.

These can be booked through the links to Cayman Islands' agent specialists.

Culinary junkies can get their fix at the annual Cayman Cookout Jan. 16 to 19, hosted by top chef Eric Ripert.

The event will include tastings, island tours, dinners and cooking demonstrations; tickets to specific events can be purchased online.

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