Monday, May 21, 2012

Back to work ... in Cayman again

It has been 2 years since I retired (September 2009) and the fact of the matter was that I felt I still had things to do at my old company so I made the decision to "unretire" and went so far as to shave off my beard on 1st April 2012.  However, I still have trouble wearing a tie every day.  So to announce my presence my business partner Robert suggested we take a booth at the Cayman Islands STEP conference (trust related) held at the Ritz.  It has been 3 years since I last visited Cayman so I was interested to see what has changed in my absence.

George Town from the air.  The harbor is being rebuilt by a Chinese consortium apparently which should improve things.  Businesses are moving out to office parks further down West Bay Road, primarily Camana Bay which is off to the right.

The financial crash caused by Lehman's collapse has morphed into a rash of further disasters ranging from government debt crises, hedge fund collapses and in our world of offshore finance immense new regulation.

Cayman had suffered as had Bermuda but from a slightly different angle -- both have financing problems, both are finding it difficult to attract new business and new capital, both have immigration policies that forced thousands of expats to leave along with their capital, both financial and intellectual.  However Cayman's government has the appearance of making tough decisions that Bermuda's simply will not take.  It could be crucial in the development of each jurisdiction in the next 5-10 years.  Cayman has announced a new tax free zone for new foreign business (tech, medical R&D, etc -- intellectual capital) and a new heart hospital set up by an Indian doctor to access the US health market.  In short it is vibrant.  Well almost, but certainly along the road to it.  Bermuda sadly is not in the same almost vibrant position.  The absence of new transactions and of any 'new' ideas to develop new business are symptomatic of a country that seems to have lost its way and doesn't really know what to do next.  Asking business people may well be a good start -- Cayman does -- but that sadly doesn't seem to be the way in Bermuda.

This is not to say that everything is hunky dory in Cayman.  New commercial and residential building abounds but that simply means that businesses are trading up leaving their old premises empty.  That goes for residential too.  The real estate book I last read 3 years ago advertised the same apartment I looked at back in 2008 at $110,000 less than what it was back then -- actually at the offer price I made back then but which was peremptorily dismissed.  You can certainly buy, but its pretty difficult to sell.  The ability for anyone to own property in Cayman has long been touted as a major advantage over Bermuda, but it does seem that owning a place comes with a real warning.

Same airport although plans are afoot to renovate ... once they have the cash.

We stayed at the Ritz Carlton on West Bay Road alongside 7 Mile Beach.  It certainly is a lovely hotel. The service is stellar too which is what you would expect for a 5 star resort of this kind (and price).  However it has its problems too with the real estate division apparently in receivership under a welter of debt and unsold residences even though the hotel seems to be perpetually full.  Apparently the Westin too is in administration so Cayman tourism isn't in that healthy a state.

Our bedroom at the Ritz

Conference over I even managed to get a tennis game on the only grass court in the Caribbean -- I hadn't played on grass for 35 years.  And really I don't know how the pros play such good tennis on this surface.  I certainly could not. The ball didn't bounce much, it skidded and moved all over the place, and in short evened up the ability gap between myself and the young pro who pulled the short straw to play with me and struggled more than I did.

The only grass court in the Caribbean with the Ritz as back drop

Fortunately for the pair of us, it started raining a little so after some more slipping and sliding around we decided to move onto the red clay courts next door.  The pro told me they would be digging up the courts because nobody liked playing on them and they couldn't make any money out of it -- they are putting in 2 hard courts.

The Ritz has a great spa and exercise area.  I don't normally use gyms as a rule but as my wife, Vivien, was with me and exercised regularly I went along... and enjoyed the hot tub, sauna and all the rest of it. However we had to check out the rest of the island and started out with the Motor Car Museum in West Bay which I'd heard great things about.

It was great.

The owner/patron is a Norwegian shipowner called Mr. Ugland (with a building named after him) who'd simply repainted what looks like his own very large garage and stuffed 100 fancy cars in there including the oldest car in the world (from 1895), the first car in Cayman, the original Batmobile, a Noddy car and virtually every red Ferrari since 1955.  This was a petrol head's dream.

Who wouldn't want a picture with Batman and Robin?

Some of the red Ferrari fleet


The first car in Cayman. A 1905 Cadillac.

How do you top that?

We managed by eating lunch across the street at 'The Cracked Conch' prior to doing a circumnavigation of the island to see what exactly had been doing since we last left.

The name dish -- cracked conch

So what has changed?  A couple of roads, a new bunch of signs, 2 or 3 new shopping complexes, and that was pretty much it apart from the endless 'For Sale' signs on various real estate.  Yes, stuff has happened and the rebuild after 2004's catastrophic Hurricane Ivan has progressed but there are still derelict buildings a-plenty and in the east end particularly no real evidence of much new wealth creation.

Idyllic scene in Cayman Kai

We hadn't realized that the weekend we chose to be in Cayman coincided with a public holiday -- Queen Victoria's birthday was May 24th and Bermuda celebrates this date as Bermuda Day (along with many of the ex-colonies) but Cayman moved it to the prior Monday.  Precious little is open on Sundays but even less is open on public holidays particularly so when it rains cats and dogs in Cayman's very own version of the monsoon.

Monsoon in Cayman

Oh yes, and this is a 4-foot iguana in a car park.  These guys are apparently meaner than the local big blue iguanas and are busily eating their way through the blue guys so nobody likes them and while its not really PC to squish them ...

Thanks Cayman.  Great to be back.  I'm looking forward to returning.

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