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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Business is Booming: The Tourism Industry of Grand Cayman

Stingray City (Photo by Liam Byrne)

Early in the morning on Grand Cayman, the first sets of dinghies arrive in the port of George Town, the capital of the island, bringing the first wave of tourists from the cruise ships anchored in the harbor.

Grand Cayman is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the Caribbean. The wide variety of attractions on the island has attracted vacationers from all over. This hasn’t always been the case, the island has seen a massive boom in tourism in the past 30 years. This boom in tourism has had both positive and negative effects on Grand Cayman.

Map of Grand Cayman (Wikimedia Commons)

The island is split along east and west. In between the east and west is the North Sound, a mostly shallow water area encased by a barrier reef. The East End of the island mostly focusing on scuba diving, whereas the West End of the island comprised of white, sandy beaches, the most famous of which being 7 Mile Beach. Most of the resorts on the island are found on 7 mile beach.

Captain Chris runs a private charter boat trip to take visitors to the main tourist attraction on the island: Stingray City. Charter boats packed to the brim with people, sometimes up to 200 people aboard, go to a sandbar near the edge of the north sound to have close encounters with masses of southern stingrays. Captain Chris’s boat is on the smaller side, only fitting up to 15 guests comfortably.

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Captain Chris (Photo by Liam Byrne)

Chris was born in Jamaica, but has been living on the island for around 25 years. He’s been able to see the transformation of the island over the years. “The island has changed significantly,” he said, “Not only in terms of the infrastructure, but the amount of people that have visited the island, like, when I first came here, we used to have maybe five or six watersport operators going to Stingray City, now we have at least a hundred.”

The increase in tourism has boosted the island’s economy. Around 70 percent of Grand Cayman’s GDP comes from tourism, and that number is predicted to keep increasing. After a year where hurricanes ravaged the Caribbean, Grand Cayman was on of the few islands that wasn’t impacted. This has caused a spike in tourism, with Grand Cayman setting a new record for visitors in a year.

The main cause for this spike in tourism is the cruise ships. Since 1996, the number of arrivals from cruise ships has nearly doubled, whereas air arrivals to the island haven’t had as drastic shifts. Cruise ships brought 1.7 million people to Grand Cayman in 2017, around three times as many visitors as arrived by air. All of these arrivals help locals like Captain Chris, who gets nearly 75 percent of his clients cruises.

All of these visitors do have one negative: They can harm the reefs and ocean life. Despite the fact that most of the island’s reefs are protected, the reefs have been dying faster than ever. Since 1970, the reef coverage in the waters around the island has decreased by 50%. Most of this is caused by global warming, but human interactions with reefs have caused large portions of 7 mile beach’s water to be devoid of coral.

On top of this, the government on Grand Cayman is considering a permit that would allow for the construction of a new cruise ship pier in George Town. The construction of the pier would kill acres of living coral.

Tourism has had both a positive and negative effects on Grand Cayman, the only thing that is certain is that the masses of visitors will keep flowing in for the foreseeable future.

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