(CNS): The people of West Bay have made it very clear to Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell that they believe the key to a successful national tourism plan for the Cayman Islands would be to promote and protect locals in the sector and stop the marginalization of Caymanians currently working in the industry. At a busy meeting in the district, where around one hundred people turned out to take part in the public consultation on the shaping of a new five-year plan for the industry, several people pointed to the need to ensure that Caymanian faces were on the front line, stop the proliferation of businesses owned by foreign nationals dominating the sector and Caymanianize tourism to reflect CaymanKind .
Some of the challenges West Bayers working in the industry said they were seeing are: inexperienced boat captains, tourists being chased of beaches, bus drivers with no knowledge of Cayman and hotel concierges who are warning tourists not to use local operators. The absence of local faces, local food, local information and knowledge was, they said, undermining the sector, and until government helped protect and promote Caymanians in tourism, the new plan would be pointless.
One member of the public working in tourism pointed out that the Department of Tourism was “spending millions of dollars of our money” on promoting the destination but Caymanians were “not getting the business”.
Another member of the community said that he was sick of being looked down on by permit holders working in the water-sports sector who seemed to think Caymanians were just “all dumb locals”, when he said they were committing numerous safety infractions, especially at Stingray City. “Tourism need to be put back in the hands of Caymanians,” said one contributor to warm applause.
People also spoke about the need for the tourism plan to be positioned in a wider national economic plan and that without considering the future of tourism in context with national development, the Cayman Islands’ population would grow unchecked. People said foreign developers were continuing to prosper while locals were struggling to benefit from the growth in the economy or from the successes in tourism.
On a number of occasions, Minister Kirkconnell said he agreed that government would fail if local people were not benefiting from the growth in tourism. He said it was important that people were raising the issues and challenges they face and it was this kind of feedback that the ministry and tourism department were looking for to help shape the plan.
Kirkconnell said that the issue of hotels advising tourists not to use small local operators had been raised in other districts and he said there were some difficulties relating to indemnity insurance. But he also said some establishments were breaking the ‘brochure rack rules’, which obligate hotels to have brochures of local businesses at their receptions.
He said the ministry was aware of that issue and was following up on it. Kirkconnell also said the Department of Tourism was willing to help local operators promote their business, develop or improve websites and get their businesses in front of the visitors.