By Lindsey Turnbull
Tourism industry workers heard that their industry was unlikely to bounce back in any significant way next year, at least not until the end of 2021, according to Tourism Director Rosa Harris, who spoke at the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s Forum this month.
Covid had had a drastic impact on visitation levels for 2020 and the industry as a whole had lost more than $442 million dollars this year in visitor spend, with just $167.8 million having being spent by tourists in 2020, Ms Harris advised.
Caribbean leading Covid tourism recovery
The Caribbean as a whole was seen as a positive light when it came to leading the global tourism industry out of its current Covid depression, with the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation stating that the Caribbean was viewed as leading the recovery pace at a 35% recovery pace, with other areas behind it, Ms Harris advised. With more than 10 million cases of Covid in the US, and a resurgence in Canada and Europe, the fact that the Caribbean was doing well in recovery was a testament to it doing a very good job in controlling various countries and also showed that protocols that they had put in place in terms of health visas, screening and reopening, were working.
“The advantage that we have in Cayman is that we are able to learn from other jurisdictions and choose what we feel is best for Cayman,” she advised.
Ms Harris said that the mid October launch of Cayman’s Global Citizen Programme would help Cayman’s tourism industry catch the “low hanging fruit” of individuals who were keen to come to Cayman to stay for a good amount of time.
When launched, there was a surge in online searches for hotels in Cayman, she advised.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of outreach about the programme and how people can opt in, generally from people who know Cayman, love Cayman and are still loyal to our brand, and this just proves how much of an interest there is in terms of the global citizen long term stay,” she told the audience.
No tourists any time soon
The DOT had compiled research from destination analysts to understand the sentiment of American travelers in terms of their feelings about travel, which revealed that they were not going to return to Cayman any time soon.
“The truth of the matter, it’s not until late in 2021,” she advised.
According to the data, the majority of those polled, 31.7%, said they had tentative plans to travel only sometime between May and December 2021, while 24.7% said I have no plans to travel right now. Ms Harris said the sentiment was very sporadic about travelling on commercial airlines, with 30% saying they would travel some time in 2021, with “a very good portion” thinking of using a commercial airline only in 2022.
“It’s a mixed bag of knowing when they are willing to travel; however out of those who are willing to travel, travelling longer haul - meaning 1,000 miles or more - is about 40% or over, so that is promising as well. So, when they do travel, they don’t mind going a longer distance possibly connecting to get to their destination,” Ms Harris said.
People’s readiness to travel also provided mixed messages, likely because there was no concrete health data to make people felt absolutely comfortable to travel. The data revealed that 26.9% said they were ready to travel but felt some hesitation, while 20.3% thought they were ready to travel but needed a little bit more time to travel, and 24.2% said they needed a lot more time to be ready to travel.
“So, again, this is the rollercoaster that were on. We need to find that sweet spot of persons who are willing to travel over 1,000 miles and they are kind of ready,” she added.
As far as the perceived safety of travel activities was concerned, the riskiest form of travel activity was taking a cruise, with 56.2% feeling it was unsafe and only 14.6% thinking it was safe. Attending a conference was also perceived as risky (43.8% believing it unsafe), as was travelling outside the United States (42.6% thinking this was unsafe). Travelling on a commercial airline was perceived as slightly less risky (33.3% thinking it was too risky) but only 18% believed staying in a hotel was too unsafe.
“We have to find those pockets of persons to whom we can say take that first leap of faith on that flight to come to Cayman,” Ms Harris confirmed, adding that those people who travelled to escape the ordinary life and find their happy place were those to whom they would be marketing the Global Citizen Programme.
On the plus side, 56.9% of those polled agreed that they would be happy in planning a vacation for next year.
The DOT was actively leaning on those people who had already been to Cayman and who were loyal to the brand, she said, saying that that was the pool of people they wanted to engage.
But, as excited as people were to plan a vacation, the truth was that the main feelings among potential travelers were fear, nervousness, caution and anxiety about travelling.
“We have to do our jobs to ensure that they come and they feel at ease and that’s what the global citizen programme will hopefully provide for our future visitors,” Ms Harris stated.