By Christopher Famous
Located approximately 450 miles south or 60 minutes flying time from Miami lies three beautiful sister islands of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, collectively known as the Cayman Islands.
Recently Grand Cayman served as the host island for the 43rd Annual Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s (CPA) Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic (CAA) region conference. The Conference ran from June 16 until June 23, 2018.
A total of nearly 100 delegates, from almost the entire English-speaking Caribbean region, flew into Grand Cayman.
From the minute we stepped off the plane at the Owen Roberts International Airport we were greeted with what can only be described as open arms, by some of the friendliest people on this earth.
“Welcome to our home and now your home, Grand Cayman,” stated our Caymanian bus driver Lorna Ebanks. We later met the rest of her three-bus transport team consisting of Elizabeth Bush and Josie Vegiz.
Over the following week we had a few facts shared with us about the Cayman Islands.
Today, I would like, as an introduction, to share a few of these facts with you.
1503 Christopher Columbus claims to have first sighted these islands and named them Las Tortugas.
1607 England, under the treaty of Madrid, takes over Cayman Islands and Jamaica.
1802 The first census shows a total of 909 inhabitants, of which 545 were enslaved Africans.
1863 English Parliament makes Cayman Islands a dependency of Jamaica.
1958 Cayman Islands granted its own Coat of Arms.
1962 Cayman Islands becomes Crown Colony no longer associated with Jamaica.
1972 Cayman Islands gains its own currency.
1972 New Parliament building opens.
2004 Hurricane Ivan devastates Grand Cayman.
2015 Cayman Islands moves to 19 single-seat constituencies.
2017 First election under single seat constituencies.
2018 Cayman Islands celebrates 60th anniversary of Coat of Arms.
*provided in CPA Handbook
With a total combined size of 102 square miles, Cayman Islands is home to just over 63,000 persons who work in a wide range of industries such as, but not limited to financial services, hospitality and other service industries.
Having an unequalled exchange rate of $1 Cayman dollar (KYD): $1.25 US dollars, Caymanians can rightly say that they have the strongest currency in the Caribbean and perhaps one of the strongest currencies in the world.
I have always been intrigued as to how their dollar was so strong and made some inquiries whilst there. Apparently, in 1974 there was a Cayman Islands Currency Order that set the exchange rate of $1 KYD: $1.20 US.
The present government takes great pride in stating that the Cayman Islands is a cosmopolitan society with over 120 different nationalities working in the islands, in almost every industry. This is indeed true as you can bump into 20 persons from 20 different countries all within 20 different minutes.
On the surface this could be hailed as a Caribbean success story of multi-culturalism.
The flip side would be getting to speak with native Caymanians who, rightly or wrongly, express sentiments of feeling like a minority in their own country.
Statistics show that the population break-down clearly indicates that approximately half of the population is non-Caymanian. With ambitious plans to raise their population to a level of at least 100,000 persons, it is clear that the present CI government has an extremely liberal immigration policy.
Over the last few years the Cayman Islands has enjoyed an ever-growing number of visitors by both sea and air travel. In fact, in 2017 over 400,000 visitors arrived via air and another 1.7 million persons arrived via cruise ship, for a combined total of 2.1 million tourists.
The most popular area for those who arrive by air would be the “swanky” Seven-Mile Beach strip that flows from the edge of the capital George Town all the way northward to the edge of the West Bay district.
Major international hotel chains such as Marriott, Comfort Suites and Ritz Carlton dominate along the entire seven-mile stretch.
Whilst all hotel staff was extremely friendly and helpful, if there was one regret it would be that there are very few Caymanians working in the hotel/hospitality industry.
Irrespective of their country of origin, every person we met was extremely friendly and helpful, at all times, going out of their way to ensure that we were well taken care of and all needs met. Any similar jurisdiction such as Bermuda and BVI that is looking to succeed in tourism would do well to ensure this level of uber-friendliness.
There is a slogan/mantra that pretty much sums up what we felt and why their tourism numbers continue to grow. That would be to “Stay Cayman-Kind.”
In subsequent pieces, I will look at other aspects of the Cayman Islands, such as culture, infrastructure and, yes, politics.