Cruise ships will start calling again at Cayman from next month.
Confirmation came in a detailed press release on Friday afternoon (February 25th) that the first cruise ship in two years will arrive in port on March 21st, marking two full years since the borders were closed on March 22nd 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The release from the Ministry Tourism and Transport, portfolio of Hon. Kenneth Bryan, said: “Following careful consideration of recommendations presented by the Ministry of Tourism to facilitate the safe return of cruise tourism, cruise ships are projected to return to the Cayman Islands from 21st March 2022, pending formal Cabinet approval and regulatory amendments.”
Mr Bryan emphasised that the government is giving as much advance notice as possible of the intent to restart cruise tourism on 21st March. “This is to allow cruise operators, businesses and employees enough lead time to prepare,” he stated. “After two years of uncertainty there is finally light on the horizon, and I encourage businesses to start staffing up and making the necessary preparations to give cruise passengers a great experience when they arrive.”
The Tourism Minister also said, “After a 2-year hiatus, the return of cruise passengers to the Cayman Islands will be a move welcomed by displaced employees and industry stakeholders, and represents the achievement of another significant milestone in the recovery of the Cayman Islands tourism industry.”
According to the Ministry of Tourism’s recommendations, the resumption of cruise tourism will follow a phased approach similar to the process adopted for the reintroduction of stay-over air arrivals.
Phase 1 is slated to continue for a period of four weeks, to allow sufficient time for safety protocols to be evaluated and to identify what, if any, adjustments might need to be made.
The strategy for Phase 1 limits cruise passenger arrivals will be limited to 40% of previous passenger volumes - a maximum of 75,000 passengers during this period.
“Following the successful completion of that phase, and subject to Public Health approval, the 40% capacity constraint will be removed. However, effective public health protocols will be maintained, integrating the lessons learned during Phase 1,” the statement explained.
Mr Bryan recently to recent high senior executives from the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) in high level talks about the return and future of cruise tourism in Cayman.
“The PACT Administration does not take the decision to reintroduce cruise tourism lightly,” he is quoted as saying in the press release which names newly-appointed Chief of Strategy in the Premier’s Office Pilar Bush - a former Director of Tourism - as the contact person.
“The fact remains that while the pandemic persists, all travel, whether by air or sea, presents a certain degree of risk. However, as we are seeing with stayover arrivals, our Island’s high vaccination rate, coupled with having the right safety protocols in place, is allowing our tourism industry to recover,” Mr Bryan added.
The release goes on to state that drawing on previous experience from the reintroduction of tourist air arrivals in the Cayman Islands, the Programme Board and various local government entities are reviewing regulations to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place to protect the public.
It said these are intended to take into account the unique characteristics of the cruise industry and the fact that cruise passengers are only in the jurisdiction for 6-8 hours on average and do not overnight.
Also during Phase 1 of the return to cruising, in addition to the rigorous safety protocols implemented by cruise lines, which include the requirement for passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated, the Cayman Islands Government says it has identified which cruise calls will be permitted, to increase the layers of public protection.
According to the release, the (Interim) Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Autilia Newton, has also examined the health protocols of all cruise lines that operate under the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA).
A key part of the protocols specific to the cruise sector stipulates that no COVID positive passengers, crew or their close contacts will be permitted to disembark the cruise ship in Grand Cayman, whether they are symptomatic or not.
Tourism Minister Bryan stressed that public health and safety remains a priority, saying that’s the reason why the government is adopting a pragmatic, phased approach. “Our phased approach will ensure that residents and visitors are well protected as we welcome cruise passengers back to our shores,” the Minister said.
Friday’s press release announcing the return of cruise tourism points out that around the world cruise operations have been safely resuming, and public health measures, such as pre-embarkation tests and wellness checks that comply with COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are in effect.
It said individual cruise lines have also developed their own safety protocols that exceed CDC guidelines, and ships are now equipped with excellent medical facilities, including intensive care and isolation units.