seven mile beach
The Westin on Seven MIle Beach.

Cayman Islands Tourism Is Sizzling

By: Joe Pike - April 11, 2023

The Cayman Islands is well on track to surpassing the successful tourism numbers it annually received before 2019 when COVID knocked the global travel industry on its back.

The Cayman Islands welcomed 1,027,668 visitors in 2022 with 743,394 cruise passengers and 284,274 stay-over visitors. The figures for both cruise and stay-over visitation exceeded goals set by the Cayman Islands Government, and point to the continued resurgence of travel to the Cayman Islands. 

It’s an exciting time for the destination, with an always-buzzing culinary scene (one buoyed by the recent return of the celebrity chef-filled Cayman Cookout), and a tri-island tourism product that continues to diversify.

That includes a number of new hotels in the pipeline, according to Rosa Harris, Director of Tourism for the Cayman Islands.

cayman rosa harris
Cayman Islands Director of Tourism Mrs. Rosa Harris

“There’s always something new and exciting happening in the Cayman Islands,” she said, pointing to the new Vida Cayman Adventure Lodge and Kailani Grand Cayman, A Curio Collection by Hilton Hotel, both slated to open in 2023.

The new Hotel Indigo and Grand Hyatt Grand Cayman Residences will open their doors in 2024, said Harris.

Dart is developing the aforementioned Hotel Indigo, which will be located adjacent to the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. Also, Harris said Dart has recently opened Kapok, a mixed-used residential and retail development in Camana Bay.

“Resort-residential is an important part of our accommodations mix,” said Harris. “We wish to grow our core hotel room stock as a destination in Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman in particular.

“Should a new development site add residential units,” she continued, “this offers a longer stay and seasonal residents which provide a steady stream of business year-round. Hosting a healthy residential-owner pool benefits the islands with multiple trips taken in any given year.”

ritz-carlton grand cayman
The beach at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman.

Residential resorts, said Harris, also played a vital hand in Cayman tourism’s bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we first eased restrictions, the first people to return to island were condo owners who were eager to come back home,” said Harris, “and in 2022 almost 47 percent of our visitors were repeat visitors so the resort-residential mix makes sense.”

There was a slow start in January with 5,864 stay-over visitors, but this increased rapidly month-on-month over the first half of the year, concurrent with the Cayman Islands Government’s phased approach to reopening the country by easing travel restrictions.

cayman islands tourism sizzling
The Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman.

All travel restrictions were lifted at the end of August and air arrivals began to soar.

“The world came to a standstill and as a country we decided to manage our population with strict mitigation measures,” said Harris. “This resulted in the Cayman Islands being COVID-19 free for approximately 12 months during the height of the pandemic. This was also supported by the United Kingdom, as we’re a British Overseas Territory, which allow us to be the beneficiary of the early release of the COVID-19 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.”

Visitation during the last quarter of 2023 averaged 89 percent of 2019’s numbers, leading to a sizzling first quarter. 

“We provided a soft opening regime for our borders which required a testing and vaccination program that allowed visitors to travel to the Cayman Islands from September 2021,” said Harris. “With this phased approach to reopening, we were able to prepare our citizens and residents for the return of visitors in a safe and measured way.”

Though the United States accounted for 80.8 percent of all stay-over visitors, U.K. and Ireland was the fastest recovering market in 2022, reaching 77 percent of 2019’s visitation level. This was followed by Canada at 66 percent of 2019’s level with Canada recording growth over 2019’s numbers in July, October and December 2022.

Latin America was the third fastest recovering market reaching 60 percent of 2019 visitation.

Repeat visitors to the islands represented 46.7 percent compared to 44.4 percent in 2019. The average length of stay for visitors increased from 5.9 nights in 2019 to 7.6 nights in 2022.

Based on data from STR Inc., which provides data on the global hotel industry, the average daily rate for hotels in the destination increased by 12 percent over 2019. Cruise ships returned to the Cayman Islands in March of 2022, and by December 2022, the destination welcomed 743,394 cruise passengers on 261 ships.

Harris said recent restaurant additions include The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman’s Saint June, formerly Bar jack, featuring sophisticated and stylish food and beverage offerings with an expansive view of Seven Mile Beach. West Bay is becoming the island’s new dining hub with Le Petit Bar, and Nova Cayman, said Harris.

Local food festival, Taste of Cayman, also returns on May 13. Cayman’s annual carnivals are on this year as well. “Batabano” kicks off in May and “CayMas” is slated to begin in June.

For 2023, the destination has set an overall visitation goal of 70 percent of 2019’s numbers, said Harris.

“We kicked off 2023 in January delivering 89 percent of 2019 January volume,” said Harris. “The momentum and confidence in our destination is undeniable with return and new visitors to our shores.”

For more, visit the Cayman Islands.

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