By Christopher Tobutt
Regulations which prohibit unvaccinated children from entering Cayman, staffing shortages and low air arrivals numbers were the three major roadblocks to rebuilding Cayman tourism industry. They were identified at the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA)’s AGM, held at the Marriott Beach Hotel and Resort by Association Vice President, Michael Tibbetts.
Both Mr Tibbetts and Markus Mueri, CITA Treasurer, spoke about CITA’s initiatives to make up the shortfall of staff by recruiting Caymanians, although there was general agreement that there would still not be nearly enough Caymanians to bring the industry up to its proper capacity without additional work-permits.
“Hospitality is a team sport,” Mr Tibbetts said, as he explained that one sector was dependent upon another, and all had to have enough staff to enable the industry to function properly. But Mr Mueri stressed CITA’s ongoing commitment to spearhead initiatives for hiring Caymanians, saying that there were many positions that could be found for those who had the right attitude, and said that the Association was planning more job-fairs and similar recruitment events in the near future.
CITA president, Marc Langevin, also echoed that their sentiments that work permit holders would be needed in the remobilisation of the industry. He expressed his dismay at delays over work permit signings, indicating that this meant, in effect, that the industry was far from ready to be properly remobilised by either Christmas, or early in the New Year.
CITA member Troy Leacock who was voted Director of Watersports sector during CITA’s internal elections, spoke about the challenges CITA was facing.
“When we turned off the lights a year and a half ago, we had one government. When we’re turning on the lights today, it’s a different government, and different strategies and different priorities,” he said. “We have got to build relationships, and we have got to build trust with that government. The other area which is more subtle, but it’s just as important, because it actually impacts the political dynamic, and that is what I call ‘community sentiment’.’”
Mr Leacock explained that there had been a growing current of thought which diminished the importance of the tourism sector, because of the temporary boost to the economy by such things as the government’s release of pensions, as well as stipends and other stop-gap measures.
“We shut tourism down at 100 miles an hour, to zero. And we were all in shock. Three months later, when the pensions were released, and the tourism stipends were released, 80 percent of the persons in Cayman were awash with cash. So, the sentiment began, ‘We don’t need tourism. Why do we need tourism, look at how well we’re doing, government coffers are filling up.’ That sentiment slowly deteriorated from ‘We don’t need tourism,’ to ‘We don’t want tourism,” he said. “Tourism is everybody’s business, not just our business, so we have got to make sure that we get community connected, and we rebuild what we had before.”
Mr Mueri presented CITA ‘s financial sheet, showing a big increase in CITA’s funds over the last year, despite the fact that many CITA members were unable to pay their membership fee, and had even managed to ‘give back’ to the community, with over $16,000 donated both to ARK and Feed our Future. The shortfall had been made up by holding very successful events, such as CITA’s ‘Seaspice,’ a golf tournament, and Restaurant Month. CITA had also been able to help cook and supply 2,500 Christmas meals to the needy last year, with the help of sponsors such as Progressive, Fosters, Kirks and Island Supply.