By Lindsey Turnbull
New travel regulations issued for visitors wishing to travel to the Cayman Islands on or after the 20 November state that unvaccinated children of visitors are not permitted to enter the country. With Cayman’s tourism industry desperate to get back on its feet following more than 18 months of closure, this move is being seen by the industry to be one of the most detrimental to growth and potentially immensely damaging to Cayman’s credibility worldwide as a family-friendly destination.
Marc Langevin, President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said he understood that there was a concern in allowing unvaccinated children to visit Cayman but he said that concern was “legitimate months ago” but now that was much more an issue for the traveller, rather than for the local population. Covid-19 was in the community.
“Where we are today, it is no longer an issue for the local population because the cat is out of the bag! It’s already in the community. People are realising after the first emotional reaction that it is under control,” he stated. “The level of vaccination that we have on the island is protecting us and therefore we should not have any fear. We should not consider the numbers of people who have Covid but how many are in hospital.”
The strategy around raising the level of vaccination was justified and put the Cayman Islands in a very good position, Mr Langevin said.
Children travelling to Cayman with their parents were most likely going to be in a very controlled environment with their parents and unlikely to be mixing in any great numbers, save for perhaps mixing with a boat captain taking them to Stingray City, who would be wearing a mask and most likely vaccinated, he said.
Mr Langevin felt it was extremely unfortunate that this regulation remained and it did not look as if it would be removed in the short term.
“That is not only a detriment to the recovery, but almost more of a detriment than the CDC level 4, because, when you look around the world, if the parents are vaccinated, children are welcome. Here we are going to potentially create for ourselves a very bad reputation from the PR point of view, in that not only were we the ones that have held off tourism, but now it is the island that is not welcoming children!”
The CITA President saw this as a “major PR nightmare” which would override any benefits of protection of the population.
“That is a hurdle that was created that was not needed and it is not being addressed following science or logically, and that is frustrating, because, what do we tell our customers: absolutely, you are welcome, but leave your kids home with the grandparents for Christmas? That sounds like a great message to send!”
The regulations were ignoring the impact on the tourism industry, he stated. Cayman had traditionally marketed itself as a family destination, he said, with the destination marketing itself as the perfect destination for multi-generational families, so obviously those types of visitors were Cayman’s main customers.
“I don’t believe this will be addressed in the upcoming regulations for 20 November and this highlights a lack of understanding of our tourism industry and what the risks are, both visitor and local risk. We have been ignored for the past 18 months and, unfortunately, it’s not changing.”
Mr Langevin did say, however that he felt hopeful the issue would be addressed in January because he noted that it took the government about six weeks to get to each phase of opening.
“I do understand it’s wise for government to establish phases to allow themselves enough time to analyse what are the potential consequences of every phase. I’m not here to say we should rush and get everybody back. I am not suggesting that, but I think one small misstep has some very bad consequences from a PR point of view and the reputation of our island, and our community as a whole to be able to recover,” he concluded.