Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cayman's Culture

McKeeva’s “CaymanKind” idea isn’t a bad one. It just doesn’t go far enough. Tourists in the Caribbean region often have bad experiences, even though all the destinations claim that their natives are the Friendliest People in the World (FPW). Cayman’s US advertising agents have always pushed the FPW factor, and there will be nothing revolutionary about adding a “CK” factor to the mix. The problem will be that native Caymanians are too thin on the ground among our local tourism providers.

But is it really important to have native Caymanians as the Kind face of Cayman? If we’re looking to distinguish our Islands from our Caribbean neighbours, why not play to our strength? Our visitors (tourists, Offshore clients, expats’ families) encounter many more expats than natives anyway, so why not make a virtue of the expat varieties available? Our waiters, bartenders and shop assistants come from India, Philippines, the Caribbean (including our Islands), China, Latin America and North America. Visitors don’t care where the locals come from as long as they’re polite, helpful and kind. Almost invariably, they are all those things.

See, here’s the thing. Our visitors can’t tell the difference between Caribbean islands or their peoples. They think we all look alike, pretty much. After all, Caymanians don’t distinguish between the natives of Iowa and Illinois, do they? When we visit the birthplace of Herbert Hoover in Cedar County, Iowa, are we really impressed when a hotel clerk tells us he’s a native of the County? (There are about as many natives of Cedar County as there are natives of Cayman, and we both get the same number of tourists. I wonder if Cedar County has a “CedarKind” campaign. Possibly not, you know.)

It’s a myth, that our visitors want to meet native Caymanians. Native West Indians – well, maybe, though I don’t think so. How many visitors to Trinidad go around ticking off a list of Trinidad’s ethnic varieties? “Chinese – check; Chinese-African – check; Indian-Chinese – oh my God we haven’t seen an Indian-Chinese Trinidadian yet! Excuse me, sir: where can we find…?” No, it just doesn’t matter.

Cayman has people from everywhere; our neighbours don’t. We should advertise that. Attention all prospective tourists! You don’t know who you’re going to get. A Cambodian or Mauritanian kindness is as good as a Patagonian Kindness or a Caymanian one. What our tourism-promotion people need to do is ensure that our migrants have reason to be kind to strangers. Introduce the “CaymanKind” idea to the Immigration authorities, why don’t they? Immigration would be a hard sell, but it might be worth while making an effort. You never know.

Once, I overheard a Filipino answering a question put to him by his tricycle passengers, on Harbour Drive. “It’s a very pleasant place to live”, he said; and he sounded sincere. His statement may well have meant more to his passengers than if he’d been a Caymanian. They didn’t care that he wasn’t born and bred here, Caymanian-to-de-bone. Trying to protect our visitors from the 60% of us who aren’t Caymanians-to-de-bone is futile, stupid and rude. We put up with a lot of crap from the Immigration authorities; please will the DOT refrain from pouring more of it on us.

Somebody needs to teach both the DOT and the Immigration authorities the high value of our migrant workers to Cayman’s tourism industry, and the importance of persuading all migrant workers that this is indeed “a very pleasant place to live”. Until that happens, our officials’ ongoing hostility towards expats will make a mockery of the whole CaymanKind campaign. McKeeva & Co should have thought of that before they started.