Early indications are that the reopening of the borders to international travel is already yielding results with a gradual return of international travellers and an encouraging outlook for 2022 and beyond.
The observation was made by Hon. Minister for Tourism Kenneth Bryan, the guest on last week’s edition of the Caymanian Times programme, The Panel.
This comes as the Delta-strain COVID infections continue to decline from Cayman's first full encounter with a wave of the pandemic.
“Things are going well as we focus the number one priority being that of safety from a national perspective as well as a visitor perspective,” Min. Bryan stated.
According to the tourism and transportation minister, since the November 20th reopening, figures show 5,781 air passenger arrivals of which close to half (2,532), were business visitors. The overall number is expected to have increased to around 7,000.
“We're slowly growing well, but the main focus is going to have to be on continuing to add those flights necessary to help bring back visitors,” Mr Bryan said, noting that Air Canada, British Airways, Cayman Airways as well as JetBlue have already resumed flights with other airlines expected to follow in the coming months, crucially American Airlines, Delta, United and Southwest.
“One of the key focuses that we want to deal with is getting our projections of 40 per cent of the 2019 numbers to happen within the next year. So we’ve budgeted ourselves to make revenue of 40 per cent of what we did before…So we're shooting for about 200,000 people in 2022 and anything over that would be icing on the cake.”
But a main concern is how the new and rapidly spreading Omicron strain of COVID-19 could impact the reopening.
Mr Bryan said a lockdown is not an option the government is considering and in any event, that it would be a last resort.
“With the government's careful, slow and steady steps in focusing on safety first, we think that we can make the necessary adjustments in respect to the protocols that we would never have to go into lockdown. I don't think that any country will ever go back into a full lockdown again, like before, even with these new variants. What you do is you tighten your measures to control it.”
Plans are for a gradual and controlled return to cruise ship visits in the next year with a planned call by a ship of the Holland-America lines on December 28th this year being used to test specific and strict protocols being in place for the sector.
At the same time, Minister Bryan disclosed that a complete review of the cruise market for the Cayman Islands is being undertaken with a focus on quality instead of quantity - emphasising the high-end cruise sector and how it could better benefit Cayman.
“One of the good things about doing this test run is because I intend to remodel or reshape our cruise tourism industry where we can start focusing on quality over quantity, which means that potentially less bigger ships and smaller ships with higher quality passengers where we’ll have a higher spend.”
A key element of the upcoming review of Cayman's cruise strategy is transforming how local stakeholders negotiate with the cruise lines.
Min. Bryan says he is making a strong push for Cayman's companies to collectively bargain on rates and packages.
“I think that in order for us to do the goal and a dream that I have, there has to be a structure of some sort similar to that of a union without all the negative connotations that come with unions, where the stakeholders locally work together…stick together and do not bargain down each other.”
Mr Bryan said he wants to work with the various local tourism stakeholders on achieving this structure as the most practical and beneficial way forward.
“It's in our best interest to work together. The only way you can negotiate with the cruise lines is if you're a part of this association, and the association together, collectively come up with a pricing scale for any attraction, any kind of services that we offer. That takes a lot of buy-in, but I do believe the PACT administration along with myself can convince them that this is in the best interest of the long term sustainability of our country, as well as our society as a whole.”
'CAYMANIANS FIRST' - THE NEW NORMAL
With the tourism industry one of the main employers in Cayman, the issue of jobs for Caymanians, which has been dominant in the reopening of the borders and kickstarting the economy, again featured prominently in this discourse on The Panel.
Min. Bryan has been at the forefront of the ongoing debate and drive, pushing the cause for more and better jobs for nationals.
“The PACT administration is focusing heavily on making sure that Caymanians are placed in all job markets,” he stated while highlighting observations made by many visitors that they don’t encounter many Caymanians working in the industry, a trend Mr Bryan vowed to reverse.
“With the rebuilding of our tourism industry, as well as so many Caymanians unemployed, take this opportunity to enhance and bring up the percentages of Caymanians within the industry, which is the government's focus and plan.”
The Tourism Minister is adamant about Caymanians being prioritised in the job market, especially in the tourism industry.
"For too long the industry continues to say they're not trained and they need help. We're gonna make sure that that's no longer an excuse," Mr Bryan affirmed referring to a series of ongoing - and planned - training programmes.
“Since we’ve been in office, we've been doing a number of initiatives to ensure that that is the case. And I think we're doing pretty well so far…We are the people's representatives and this is what they want us to do. So we are going to have to learn to live with the new normal and that new normal is that Caymanians have to be in higher percentages in the tourism industry and they have to be given first preference.”
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