In response to reports of a planned luxury resort in Cuba, which could cut into Cayman’s travel business, local tourism representatives have called for proactive measures to remain competitive in an expanding market.
According to a 2 June report, Cuba is expected to announce the development of a £275 million luxury golf resort by a British-based company.
Esencia Hotels & Resorts will develop the Carbonera Country Club Resort, the report said, marking the first major investment in Cuba’s tourism industry by a British company, The resort, which is expected to open in 2011, is reportedly one of five golf resorts to be developed in that country.
Trina Christian, Executive Director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA), pointed out that as Cuba was already attracting tourists from Canada and the UK, there wasn’t an immediate threat to Cayman’s target market. “Rather than see it as a threat (we need to consider) how can we better market the fact that we’re a quick plane trip away (from Cuba),” she said.
Mrs Christian added that although the local tourism product is different to Cuba’s, it was important to watch the development of their luxury market and the opening up of the Cuban market to the US.
“Obviously everyone in the industry is conscious of the fact that the more Cuba opens up, it will infringe on us,” she said. “Currently it’s felt that Cuba doesn’t pose a threat to our target market.”
Emma Graham-Taylor, Director of CITA’s allied sector, agreed there wasn’t an immediate threat but cautioned against complacency. “Land-based tourism in Cuba is not a new thing, although nothing like ours,” she said.
Highlighting the importance of remaining competitive, she added, “The Cayman Islands need to be careful not to become complacent with land tourism.”
“If they go the way of Jamaica (with all-inclusive resorts) we don’t have a lot to worry about,” Mrs Graham-Taylor said. However, she pointed out that if Cuba also expanded their infrastructure, “then that’s when we need to be concerned”.
Davy Ebanks, General Manager at the North Sound Golf Club, was not alarmed at the prospect of competing with resorts from the island to the north. The club features the Cayman Islands’ only 18-hole championship golf course and caters to the same market likely to be attracted to the resorts in Cuba.
“I personally don’t see this development adversely affecting our business in any way and I am not at all concerned about it,” he said.
“If our tourism leaders are proactive and vigilant and promote multiple destination vacations along with Cuba, this new development could actually act as a plus for Cayman and our (golf) course, as it potentially could help to attract European visitors that otherwise may not travel to Cayman.”
Mr Ebanks added:
“Likewise, due to the proximity of Cuba, I see the likelihood of us developing a reciprocal arrangement between our respective clubs for regular inter-club tournaments etc., which could be a plus for both destinations.”
Mrs Christian agreed that further investigation was needed on how the Cayman Islands could benefit from an opening Cuban market and said that CITA planned to work with the Ministry and Department of Tourism on exploring that market.
Sean Tipton, Press Officer for ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) did not expect the opening up of Cuba to have a significant impact on the number of UK visitors to these islands.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a drastic change (in travel to the Cayman Islands),” he said, adding that the islands are “regarded as an up-market, luxury destination”.
The ABTA spokesman added that there were already considerably more British tourists going to Cuba – with about 200,000 in 2006 – compared to approximately 12,000 visiting the Cayman Islands during the same year.
“You’re more likely to see a massive influx of Americans to Cuba,” Mr Tipton said. He added that over the last three to four years, long-haul holidays in the UK had grown by 10 percent and that the increasing cost of fuel, with its effect on airfares, would be more likely to affect the number of tourists taking trips to more far-away destinations such as Cayman.