A team of industry leaders maintain the high standards set in Cayman diving decades ago and it takes vision and cooperation to keep Cayman on top
Heading into a busy summer, Cayman’s dive industry continues to receive recognition for excellence. Three dive resorts have been named to TripAdvisor’s 2015 Hall of Fame: Sunset House and Compass Point Dive Resort on Grand Cayman and the Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman. This means they have won the travel website’s Certificate of Excellence five times as a result of positive reviews posted by TripAdvisor’s followers. Ocean Frontiers and Divetech received another Certificate of Excellence this year, bringing them closer to the Hall of Fame. Red Sail Sports is in the running for the Hall of Fame too with several nods from customers over the past few years.
“There is no greater seal of approval than being recognized by one’s customers,” said Keith Sahm, Sunset House General Manager. “Because it is based on customer reviews, the accolade is a remarkable vote of confidence to our business and our continued commitment to excellence.”
"Nobody books a vacation without validating their choice with reviews from fellow travellers. TripAdvisor helps raise the game to a new level and given the consumer the power to make businesses accountable for not fulfilling their customer promise," said Steve Broadbelt, co-owner of Ocean Frontiers.
“We are honored and thank our customers very much for their kind words and continuing support!” said Nancy Easterbrook owner of Divetech.
The TripAdvisor awards add shine to an already stellar year for the Cayman Islands. Tourism numbers are up considerably from last year, and Cayman has also been voted 2015 Best Overall Dive Destination in the Caribbean/Atlantic Region by the readers of Scuba Diving Magazine in its annual survey. Divers gave high marks to Cayman’s dramatic walls, protected reefs, easy shore dives, Stingray City, the USS Kittiwake wreck and U/W photography. Topside fun also rated high.
Cayman’s dive industry leaders are pleased, but not surprised, by this recognition. They believe in the dive product, and work hard to keep Cayman on top. No Caribbean destination offers more dive sites – 365 on all three islands. Cayman also protects its marine environment, and as a dive destination, Cayman is always evolving - something that is the direct result of teamwork by leaders in the local dive industry. This team includes; Sahm, Easterbrook, Rod McDowall of Red Sail Sports, Steve Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers, Neil Van Niekerk and Kristian Eyles of the Southern Cross Club. The five dive operators work together to keep the Cayman dive experience fresh and in the dive public’s eye. As one, they help steer Cayman’s high-powered dive industry in the right direction with an eye on the competition and the future.
“We see our competition as other destinations, not our neighbors,” says Broadbelt. “We know the choices our customers have and we want to get them to the Cayman Islands. We’re not new to the game, so we focus on what we know best and make sure we are doing it better than anyone else.”
“As a team we share the load with challenges Cayman faces, we get creative and share ideas with marketing opportunities to help us all,” adds Easterbrook. “If we can get people to come to Cayman, where everything is well-maintained and safe, and where we have this incredible diving, then there is enough business for everyone.”
This culture of cooperation for the common good was fostered in the early ‘80s with the formation of the Cayman Islands Watersports Operators Association (CIWOA). Watersports operators came together to establish guidelines and procedures to ensure diving in Cayman is a consistently safe and memorable experience for all visitors. This set an example that other dive destinations try to emulate.
“Cayman is always in the forefront of the dive industry,” says Adrien Briggs, a founding member of the CIWOA, and owner of Sunset House and Red Sail Sports. “We’ve always been leaders and that's something we are very proud of.”
Briggs served as president of the association for six and a half years, and also on its Board of Directors. During his tenure with the CIWOA, he and the Board, were instrumentation in the development of Cayman’s Marine Parks and the installation of permanent moorings at dive sites to help protect them from anchor damage. Other core founding members include: Ron Kipp, Dickie Walls, Martin Sutton, Athlee Evans, Wayne Hassan, and Bud Johnson, among others.
“They showed a forward thinking that was ahead of many other dive destinations and provided a very solid base for other Caymanians and dive business enthusiasts who saw an opportunity to make a decent living in a pretty new field of tourism in the Caribbean,” says Rod McDowall, Red Sail Sports Operations Manager, and an early and active member of the CIWOA. “Many of the core principals of the CIWOA are still part of the Scuba Diving guidelines that our industry uses today, 45 years later.”
“The Cayman Islands is the home of recreational scuba diving thanks to Bob Soto’s valuable contribution to the sport, which continues to serve as an inspiration to many of us that knew him,” said Neil van Niekerk of the Southern Cross Club.
Nancy Easterbrook, another founding member, says the commitment remains strong today. “As an industry, its our responsibility to our own livelihood and to our country to contribute to Cayman’s environment and tourism business through Lionfish culls, promotional events, staff training and more. It makes good business sense because we have so much in common on this tiny Caribbean nation that working together as one voice works.”
The CIWOA eventually became part of the larger Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA) that today represents all factions of the tourism industry, but Cayman’s dive industry remains in good hands. Today’s leaders collectively share more than 100 years of dive experience and a depth of knowledge. They too have been singled out for acclaim. McDowall was inducted into the Cayman Islands Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2014 for his more than 30 years of service. Easterbrook, a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, pioneer in technical diving, and a champion of the environment, also received the Cayman Islands Governor’s Conservation Award. For his contributions to the world-wide dive industry over 20 years, Keith Sahm has been named to the 2015 class of “Divers of the Year,” by the founders of Beneath the Sea, America’s largest consumer dive and travel show in Secaucus, NJ.
“It was unanimous, Keith deserves it,” said Maria Hults, Executive Vice President of Beneath the Sea. “He’s tireless - always working for the good of the dive industry. People like Keith are the backbone of the dive community, working every day and they should be recognized.”
That applies to all members of the team that works as one to move forward with vision for the future of the Cayman dive industry. Nancy Easterbrook was the driving force behind the sinking of the Kittiwake wreck, now one of Cayman’s most popular dive sites. Steve Broadbelt, who served as CITA Watersports Director and chair for 6 years, and the association president for two, was instrumental in making the Dive 365 project a reality.
“We, as a destination are still excited about dive travel and it is what we do well to make our customers smile and come back,” says Broadbelt.
“Cayman is a trendsetter, and we couldn’t do that if we didn’t work together,” says Keith Sahm. “It’s a necessity, if you want success, you want it to work, you have to do it collectively together.”