People in Cayman appear to be fixated on the 14th October border reopening (phase four in the Government’s reopening plan), as the date when tourists will once again grace our shores. Some may believe that, at that point, our once thriving tourism industry - our hotels, tour and dive boat operators, tourist attractions, taxis, downtown retail stores, restaurants and bars - will get back to some kind of normality. But Cayman needs to take a long hard look at the reality of the situation, which suggests that tourism will not come back to these Islands in any meaningful way for a very long time.
Due to the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant, Covid-19 is currently raging in the United States, our most important source location for visitors (more than 83 per cent of visitors in the last “normal” year of 2019 were from the US). This means that many will be either unable or at the very least reticent to travel and will be far more inclined to stay put for the foreseeable future until the crisis passes in that country. People generally book up their vacations months in advance, which means it is highly unlikely we will be seeing any kind of influx from US visitors any time soon.
In addition, Cayman’s borders have been shut for such a long time that it is likely those who have ventured to the Caribbean for a vacation will have long ago discounted Cayman as a country shut off to them. This means they will have sought other sunny destinations in which to vacation, of course of which there are many in our region. Once those holiday-makers have had a taste of other destinations only too willing to have them come into their country, it will take a huge amount of effort on our part to woo them back. This phenomenon was seen after the 2017 hurricanes that hit places such as Antigua, Barbuda, the BVI and Anguilla, when Cayman’s tourism industry really took off on the back of the closing off of those markets in the aftermath of the storms.
We should also note the words of Marc Langevin, GM at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman and President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, who has worried about the time it takes to get a huge organisation such as The Ritz-Carlton properly staffed in order to welcome guests again. There have been huge efforts to get Caymanians into the industry, but there are only so many who are willing and able to work in tourism. Indeed, there is currently a global shortage of such workers.
We believe therefore that a proactive approach is necessary to ensure that displaced Caymanians are properly prepared for the next year or so, because the tourism industry jobs that they are waiting to return to are simply not coming back any time soon. We need to retool and reequip our people and get them working again in industries that actually are doing well, such as construction, real estate, and so forth.Let’s not kid ourselves that the glory days of a half a million stay over tourists (2019) and more than a quarter of a million cruise tourists (January 2019 alone) will be coming back any time soon.