Cayman Islands Cruise Tourism Exceeds Expectations

Despite a rocky start, the return of cruise tourism to the Cayman Islands has proven successful, with the islands looking forward to an even busier 2023.

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The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism has announced that cruise tourism exceeded expectations in 2022, with 743,394 cruise passengers visiting the islands by the end of the year. This marks a significant rebound for the destination, and a surprising one, given the late start that the Cayman Islands had post-pandemic. 

The Cayman Islands opened up to cruise tourism relatively late last year, with strict health and safety measures preventing the cruise industry from returning to the popular island before March 2022. 

Cruise Ships Return to the Cayman Islands

The return of cruise ships to the Cayman Islands in March 2022 was a significant milestone for the destination, as it marked the revival of an industry severely impacted by the pandemic. By December 2022, the islands had welcomed 261 ships and over 743,000 cruise passengers, exceeding the government’s annual goals.

Kenneth Bryan, Minister of Tourism and Transport, recognized the importance of cruise tourism for the destination, stating: “Cruise tourism is the epicenter of Caymanian entrepreneurship, representing a higher percentage of local business owners than any other aspect of tourism and is a vital part of our tourism offering.” 

The return of cruise ships has been a much-needed boost for the local economy, with businesses such as transport and water sports operators benefitting from the increased visitor numbers.

Complex Relationship Between Cruise Lines and Cayman Islands

It’s worth noting that the Cayman Islands had been one of the staunchest proponents of banning cruise tourism to the islands during the pandemic. The country had implemented strict protocols and procedures to prevent the spread of the virus, which had a significant impact on the tourism industry. 

The government’s approach had led to a problematic relationship with cruise companies, as they could not dock at the islands for an extended period, and while some calls were even cancelled at the last minute.

Cruise Ships in Grand Cayman
Photo Credit: Feng Cheng / Shutterstock

However, with the phased approach to reopening the country, the government allowed cruise ships to return to the islands in March 2022. 

The decision was met with some controversy, with locals concerned about the risks of another outbreak of the virus. Nevertheless, the government decided that the return of cruise ships in a controlled manner was necessary to help revive the local economy.

“We were pleased with the number of cruise visitors in 2022 and will continue to actively manage the volume of cruises both in terms of the quality of ships in port and the number of passengers who embark on our shores. We look forward to bringing cruise tourism back in a measured and sustainable way in 2023,” Bryan continued. 

Looking Forward to 2023

The Cayman Islands has set an overall goal of 70% of 2019’s visitor numbers for 2023, and Kenneth Bryan is confident that the Cayman Islands will achieve this goal. In 2019, the Cayman Islands welcomed some 1.83 million cruise ship guests, which would mean for 2023, the goal is set for around 1.2 million passengers to set foot in George Town, the Island nation’s capital.

Princess Cruise Ship at Grand Cayman
Princess Cruise Ship at Grand Cayman

The rebound in cruise tourism is a positive development for the Cayman Islands, which had been hit hard by the pandemic. With the successful return of cruise ships to the islands, the government is hopeful for a steady recovery in the tourism industry. 

The government’s decision to allow cruise ships to dock at the islands has been a controversial one, but the success of the 2022 cruise season has shown that cruise ship arrivals can be managed safely and sustainably.

Fifty-four cruise ships are scheduled to visit the Cayman Islands in 2023 during 403 scheduled calls. The vessels represent a variety of cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and MSC Cruises.

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