By Lindsey Turnbull
Increased Cayman Airways flights to important hubs such as New York, Miami and Tampa are all “good news” as far as meeting airlift requirements for Cayman’s tourism industry to get back on its feet, but it is not enough. Cayman needs to do far more to ensure that important stakeholders such as travel agents, and airlines such as American, United and Delta, feel that Cayman is a credible tourist destination once again, according to Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s President, Marc Langevin.
Even though borders are opening on 20 November, Mr Langevin does not anticipate a surge in bookings for some time. He said there was currently clearly a lack of credibility that Cayman would open on 20 November, given the stalled opening of the country over previous months.
“Hotels are planning to be filled up anywhere from 10 and 20%, some maybe 20 and 25%, and I’m assuming about the same for accommodation. On the one side, there should be no fear in the local population that we are going to be inundated by a volume that is uncontrollable because that is not going to happen in the short term, so that is going to be a very controllable solution. However, from the accommodation side, that is not the recovery we need. We need something more substantial.”
Seeing the borders open on 20 November will be a step in the right direction for airlines because they will see that Cayman is serious about welcoming visitors once again, but Mr Langevin said he doubted it would make much difference to the short-term situation, not because of a lack of willingness on the part of the airlines, but for simple logistical reasons.
CITA had warned government for a long time that the logistics of reestablishing airline connectivity would take from 60 to 90 days, due to the length of time it takes for airlines to reset schedules, hire staff and select crews, he said.
“Even with the best desire they might not be able to do it,” he confirmed. “The same way as for a hotel, even if we want to reopen, we might only be able to reopen at a certain capacity because we don’t have enough employees,” he said.
In the US right now, there was the double problem of not only a shortage of staff but also a reopening of America’s borders to places like Europe and Asia. International, long-haul flights might therefore be more profitable for airlines rather than short hauls down to the Cayman Islands, he said, especially if Cayman was not able to guaranty a certain load factor.
“They must look at the best use of their planes and their staff, so even if those airlines want to come, I’m not sure that they could.”
The bidding process for staff and crew as to which route they will get also takes time and has to be put in place 60 days in advance.
“We realised this early on because we had these conversations with the airlines over the summer, so we knew it would take between 60 to 90 days as a minimum for the airlines to come back.”
Mr Langevin felt Cayman had missed opportunities with the airlines.
“Maybe some airline will come along and, through some extraordinary measures, might bring one flight in a day. Anything would be better than what we are seeing. Right now, it’s a wait and see approach that they have adopted,” he said.
Mr Langevin said that the industry needed to know the details now of Phase 5 in the government’s reopening plan, in order to get any kind of income from 2022.
“I want to know now because I want to be able to promote our next holiday season,” he stated. “Right now, if you look at our reservations moving into the first quarter of 2022. it’s flat.”
The CITA President said Cayman’s tourism industry was focusing on the next holiday periods coming up, include the January Martin Luther King holiday and a short holiday for private schools in NYC at the end of January.
“They are not big holidays but there could be a small rebounce, then there is President’s Day in February and then there is eventually spring break. But people are booking now for those things. They are not going to wait until January and February to do that. The same way the airlines are going to plan what they do based upon those factors,” he said.
Mr Langevin said if the destination was not taking the next steps, airlines were going to hold their flights.
“It’s all tactical,” he said. “At phase four we should be talking about phase 5 to give a level of reassurance to everybody that it’s coming along, because that is the next hurdle.”