“When fisherman cannot go to sea, they repair nets.”
That bit of sage advice quoted from popular Australia-based travel writer Nabil Sabio Azadi is being used as the template to prepare Cayman and other Caribbean tourist destinations for life after COVID-19.
It comes out of a series of internet-based virtual meetings assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the regional tourism sector.
The sessions have been organised by the regional tourism umbrella body, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) in which Local hospitality and tourism consulting firm, Caymera International has been participating.
Brooke Meyer, Managing Partner of Caymera International, reports that industry experts are confident that the Caribbean region will once again recover, stronger than ever.
“The question is when will recovery begin and what can the industry do to prepare, in the meantime?”
According to Meyer, “When the borders do reopen whether it’s in 90 days or 120 days or maybe longer, there is no doubt the way of travel will be forever be changed. Will our tourism industry indeed be prepared to embrace a different future in travel?”
Pointing to the drastic security measures introduced throughout airports internationally following the 911 terrorist attacks on the US, the Caymera International Managing Director poses a number of key questions Cayman and Caribbean tourism need to start addressing in preparation for life after COVID-19:
• What changes will be required to protect our islands from a Covid-19 threat in the future?
• Will hotel and service industry staff receive training on new processes and protocols to keep them and our guests safe?
• How will our vendor contract terms look moving forward?
• Do we need to make assessments of our insurance policies?
• Are our marketing and public relation recovery plans in place and ready to execute when the time comes?
This is where Brook Meyers feels the referenced quote from Nabil Sabio Azadi comes into its own: ‘When fisherman cannot go to sea, they repair nets.’
She offers the following guidance to Cayman to ready itself for what will be, in many respects, the proverbial ‘new normal’.
Connect with Employees
Keep businesses and employees connected. Start Facebook groups or Slack Channels to be able to communicate, provide updates, and to check on each other. Consider your rehire strategy.
Reallocate Marketing / Media Buy Dollars
It is not appropriate to initiate any major marketing campaigns at this time. Consider reallocating media buy funds and donate them to frontline services, social services, the community and/or employees during this critical time.
Embrace Social Media
Social media is becoming more popular than ever. Keep messaging empathic, share good news – even if not directly related to your business. Show gratefulness. Connect to resilient travellers, those who travel to the destination to visit friends or family or repeat customers as we are a lower risk destination decision for both segments. During the quarantine phase, data shows travellers are reminiscing via social media about destinations they’ve visited in the past and are researching new destinations. Let’s not ‘sell’, but maybe, just join the conversation!
Marketing and Public Relations
Analyze and understand the market and consumer data as it starts to become available. This includes historic trends and customer trends. The region has experienced devasting events in the past so information and lessons learned are available through a variety of resources. Stay closest to those who are closest to the travellers. Check-in with travel agents, tour operators, third party booking channels to see what they are hearing from those booking future travel. Take this time to personally communicate with your past customers. Now is a good time to do so.
Ready Revenue Management Strategies
Hotels, resorts, Airbnb, and all other accommodations should start to think about readying re-opening strategies for a highly competitive market for when the time comes to reopen. Avoid deep discounts. Data shows recovery takes double the time when rates are cut. Focus on delivering value and new experiences to entice future-forward bookings.
Consider health and safety precautions needed to protect employees and guests or customers when your business is reopened. Monitor various industry resources including organizations such as the World Health Organization for guidance and prepare to implement processes and protocols required. Re-evaluate your business model. Will you continue to offer delivery? When dine-in is allowed again, does your seating layout allow for social distancing? How does a new seating layout affect your revenue per available seat? What does that model look like in the future?
When seeking any financial assistance through loans or small business programs business plans, historical financial data, and future forecast data is generally required by the financial institution. Use this down-time to begin preparing the required information to provide to the lenders.
Regional experts are estimating closures may last up to another 120 days – maybe longer. Recovery could occur as early as Q3, but more realistically Q4. Data indicates some travellers are optimistically booking Caribbean travel in late summer. Of course, all of this is contingent upon what happens next with COVID-19. Let’s proportionate our reactions balancing personal and economic health and be prepared for a reopening second to none.
Borrowing a slogan from the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), the Caymera International Managing Director states: “Life needs the Caribbean. Travellers need the Caribbean... and and we will bounce back.”