Thursday, 10 January 2008

Entry Update -- Cayman Islands, Death By Scuba - the 20 minutes of fame travel destinations don't want. Updated 2008

Wearing my Diver Magazine hat I attended a number of travel events this past month as warm weather destinations came to Toronto to roll out their winter campaigns to attract travellers. Typically a country will send its marketing team, its PR firm and its minister of tourism. There are steel drums, lotsa great food, drinks, good times and mountains of press kits.

It can be a difficult task to interview a tourism minister in his/her own country - 15 years ago - almost a lifetime it seems - in St Kitts I sat on a chair in their downtown government house waiting to meet the vice premier. After six hours his assistant acknowledged that in fact the minister was off-island. So, I find these events useful because you actually talk to the decision makers. Most tourism ministers walk to pump hands and pump sunshine, however,if you try real hard, they will answer the tough questions.

Last week I went to the Cayman Island tourism launch and talked to the Minister of Tourism about diver fatality stats from the most popular dive destination in the Caribbean. His answers were refreshingly frank. I will report on my brief interview in this Blog later today .... don't touch that dial.

Hey. Hey. I write these words on January 10th, 2008. I never did fill in the blanks did I? My excuse? I got busy after the post and didn't got around it doing it (until today). And, to be honest, I actually sent a job application into the Cayman Government. Didn't think it would help the cause if I waxed on about diver deaths and a cabinet on these pages while I was trying to sell my services as a pr type rather than a nosy journalist (I do both). As it was I never did hear back from the Government. Sigh - The Cayman Islands Government has learned Toronto rude.

As far as the interview went with the minister, he and his associates were very blunt. It was refreashing. They see the sport of diving as being in decline - which impacts negatively on their visitor numbers. Oh there are still people joining the sport each year but at most (and they quoted PADI figures) there are only 2 million active divers on the planet. On any given year two million divers will never go to one destination to dive - like Cayman - however, in a calender year over a million people will visit the Cayman Islands on cruise ships.

So, according to the minister, the three-island British colony will continue to court the cruise ship trade with vigor and passion (hence their arrival in YYZ). Diving will not be ignored, but, the future of the island's tourism industry no longer rests on a pair of flippers.

A large percentage of the cruise ship visitors want to take part in water activities when they arrive in Georgetown. Most want to lie on the Seven Mile Beach. Others want to snorkel and visit Sting Ray City. A small number want to scuba dive.

It is the people in the second and third categories who are dying. A very small percentage of visitors arrive on the island standing up and leave in a box.

Why, I asked the minister are people dying in the water? His take on the figures are that with such large numbers of visitors, stats wise people are going to die. Many of the deceased were overweight, old, out-of-shape and already suffering from severe medical problems -- the snorkeling or diving speeded up a process that was probably well underway before that person arrived on the island.

The island feels its dive and snorkel standards are stricter then any other Caribbean island. But, the problem facing operators is that cruise ship passengers have a tight time-line on the island, and there is little opportunity to evaluate people's diving skills, experience levels and health, before putting them in the water.

There have been deaths on Little Cayman island - where no cruise ship visitor ever treads. The minister noted that these deaths involved experience divers and the government was at a loss to figure out was caused those accidents. (Not all of the bodies have yet been recovered from the base of Bloody Bay Wall. One incident is being classed as dbs - death by scuba - the body of diver was never found but a sucide note was recovered.

The day after I met with the minister that was another scuba/snorkel fatality on the island. I plan to visit the island have a more detailed interview with the Minister.

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