By Lindsey Turnbull
Cayman’s continued closure of its borders to tourists is detrimentally impacting the tourism industry in the crucially important first quarter of next year, the three months of high season when, traditionally, around 60% of Government’s revenues are made from this currently closed industry.
Marc Langevin, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and also President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said that it was necessary to open Cayman’s borders in a measured and controlled way immediately, because the resort and others like it was already seeing tourists decide to book elsewhere for their winter vacations.
“We believe in a progressive opening,” he confirmed. “We believe it’s not possible to wait for that perfect day when everything is back to normal; it’s never going to happen. For us, we believe right now where we are as an island, at 67% vaccinated, we could easily start to open in a controlled manner.”
Mr Langevin said there were ways to limit and control the risk, the first by controlling the number of flights arriving and accepting only vaccinated people. He said pre-testing and testing could take place on arrival, which he thought might be overkill but it was a way to start. Studies at the main resorts on island found that around 80% of staff were vaccinated, further limiting risk. He thought passenger numbers could then be slowly augmented to stress the situation while at the same time the local uptake of vaccinations would continue to increase.
“We believe we need to start now, not July, not August, but now, so that we can start to test the system, because if I want to be able to train our employees I need some customers. It doesn’t matter if you give me 10%, 20%, I need customers to train employees and test the protocol,” he said.
Cayman needed to start taking little steps at a time.
“We cannot assume that the world is going to be better and suddenly in October or November we will be at 80% [occupancy]. It’s such a stressful situation; it not even possible to consider.”
Mr Langevin said that although his bookings were pretty solid right now, there was grave concern as his customers were calling and they were starting to see some erosion. Acknowledging that there was no doubt they would see further erosion if customers were told they had to have a vaccine before coming, Mr Langevin said he could deal with that with enough of a warning, however not knowing what the criteria would be for his guests meant he was in the dark as to whether his customers would come or not.
“We need a vision so we can align some actions and then we also need to communicate to customers… so there is a lot of work. We hope all this is taken into consideration because we cannot keep postponing the decision until we feel comfortable, because then it will be too late,” he said.
Mr Langevin said that they were already seeing pace (how far in advance people book) slowing. While Christmas was always booked far in advance, they were already seeing a slowing of velocity of pacing for Q4 2021 but even more for Q1 2022.
“We have a very strong group base right now but people are losing confidence. We see that it’s more uncertain and people are not making reservations. What’s dangerous is that they are making reservations in other destinations. If it was everywhere I would be OK because, yes, it is a different time, but right now people are going to the point of least resistance and they are making choices based on clearly stated protocols,” he advised.
The tourism industry as a whole should not be underrated, he believed.
“One thing we have learnt from this crisis is that tourism is still relevant. We are still representing $200-250 million directly or indirectly to the Government, and to the entire economy, we are a billion dollar industry. People finally realise, it’s not just pocket change,” he said. “It is relevant and it is important to have a diverse industry.”
While this current crisis was affecting tourism, there could quite easily be another around the corner affecting financial services, and then we would be glad to have tourism, he said.