On 15 December, 2005, the Cayman Islands tourism product — still suffering from the impacts of Hurricane Ivan the previous year — received a game-changing lift with the opening of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
In the 16 years since, Cayman's first and only Forbes Five-Star hotel has established itself as one of the best resorts in the Caribbean. A few years after opening, the hotel began hosting the annual Cayman Cookout event, a renowned culinary festival that helped Grand Cayman earn its "Culinary Capital of the Caribbean" moniker.
Over the years, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman has also served as host for the Cayman Rejuvenate wellness festival, a film festival and numerous fundraising and celebratory events.
It is therefore appropriate that on 15 December this year, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman will once again begin welcoming guests after a six-and-a-half month closure for an extensive, US$50 million renovation. As it did in 2005, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman will now play a large role in helping the country's tourism product rebound from devastation, this time caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting 20-month closure of the borders to tourists.
"The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman was an instant classic when it opened in 2005, drawing international acclaim for innovative experiences such as its partnerships with Eric Ripert and Jean-Michel Cousteau," said General Manager Marc Langevin. "This significant investment 16 years later — during the most challenging period in the Cayman Islands' tourism history — reflects the commitment to sustaining the resort's leadership position in the Caribbean luxury market."
After the initial 11-week COVID-19 lockdown that started in March 2020, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman reopened to residents for staycations, with most of its restaurants reopening as well. Even after the hotel closed in June this year, several of the restaurants — as well as the golf course — remained open, but with reduced staff and operating hours.
Langevin believes the resort will come back stronger than ever.
“Our core group of 'Ladies and Gentlemen' spent a year delivering the renowned Ritz-Carlton experience to our local guests, exhibiting extraordinary commitment and creativity," he said. "They are eager to welcome international guests with renewed passion and remind the world why the Cayman Islands was worth the wait.”
DECISION TO RENOVATE
Dart bought The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman in October 2017, about five years after Five Mile Capital Partners acquired the property. Although Five Mile completed multimillion improvements on the property during its ownership, many of the hotel's common areas remained as they were when the hotel opened.
“Dart planned to renovate the guest rooms in 2021 and the common areas by 2025, but with the prolonged border closure we decided to complete both sets of renovations this year,” said CEO Mark VanDevelde.
Some of the many public areas renovated include the hotel's lobby, the Silver Palm Lounge and bar, the corridors and elevator lobbies, the restrooms, the art gallery and the ballroom.
VanDevelde said Dart believes that Cayman's tourism will make a strong recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.
"This investment demonstrates our confidence in the strength and resilience of the Cayman Islands," he said. "When we finally come out of the pandemic, we will do so with a fully refreshed hotel that will be well-positioned to help drive Cayman's tourism recovery."
For its design partner on the renovation, Dart chose New York-based Champalimaud Design, which is renowned for reimagining luxury hotels in a residential style. It previously did work on Raffles Singapore, Su Casa at Dorado Beach, Hotel Beverly Hills and The Ritz-Carlton, Boston.
The renovation design steps away from the common colonial undertones found in the region to mid-century British Caribbean influences. It also reflects the Caribbean Sea that surrounds Cayman with an expression of modern, costal elegance, said Langevin.
"While the sea is celebrated at the resort, the spaces don't forget the importance of Cayman's native plants, trees and land-based natural resources," he said. "Even Caymanite, the semi-precious stone found nowhere else, makes some cameo appearances to help reflect a sense of place."
Another element of design that accentuates the sense of place is the usage of local art, not only in the renovated Gallery space, but also throughout the common areas of the hotel.
"The resort is a testament to the importance of visual arts to Caymanian culture," said Langevin. "The Gallery space has been reimagined to showcase Cayman's freshest artistic talents in a professional exhibition environment that focuses attention on the art."
This article appears in print in the December 2021 edition of the Camana Bay Times.