GEORGE TOWN – Thirty new taxis and six new tour buses are hitting the road as Cayman begins to cash in on a recent boom in tourism.
The Public Transport Board has issued new permits for the first time since 2007 to cope with an anticipated surge in demand as cruise passenger volumes are expected to reach record levels over the next two years.
Air arrivals have been on an upward trend since 2009, reaching a decade high of nearly 350,000 last year.
Combined with the significant boost in cruise arrivals, which are anticipated to climb from 1.4 million last year to 1.65 million in 2014 and nearly 2 million in 2015, the surge in visitors is expected to create economic opportunity across the sector.
Tourism officials said the new permits would mean at least
36 new jobs immediately.
Minister Moses Kirkconnell endorsed the decision of the Public Transport Board to sanction an expansion of the taxi industry, calling it a crucial step forward in ensuring the benefits of tourism growth filtered through to the wider community.
“Approving these permits encourages entrepreneurship and will create employment by enabling those who have been out of work to engage in a meaningful and rewarding livelihood,” he said.
Applications for new taxi and tour operator permits have been on hold since 2007 following a Deloitte study which recommended a freeze on public transport supply.
Cayman’s tourism industry has been through a low period since then, with cruise arrivals in particular on the decline. But the redeployment of ships from the Mediterranean as a result of economic struggles in Europe and political strife in northern Africa, has led to a boom in the Caribbean cruise industry
for 2014 and 2015, at least.
Rosa Harris, chair of the Public Transport Board, said the tourism sector had reached the point where there is a legitimate requirement for new taxis and tour operators. The new permits were sanctioned at the board’s March meeting.
Durk Banks, director of the Public Transportation Unit, said the unit had a waiting list of applicants seeking permits and awarded the new permits in the order the applications were received.
Kirkconnell added: “Taxi drivers and tour operators play a key role in the provision of a safe, efficient and reliable transportation system that is required to meet the business and recreational needs of the community.
“As well as providing much needed tourism support services, taxi drivers in particular also act as frontline tourism ambassadors and greatly contribute to a visitor’s first and last impression of our Islands.”
Banks said there have been some tweaks to bus coverage across Grand Cayman, with new public buses reassigned
to Bodden Town.
He said approval could be given for more taxi permits over the next year if the need is there. (Cayman Compass)