Tourism industry push Government over border opening
By Lindsey Turnbull
Dialogue between the tourism industry and Government needs to begin now on the opening up of Cayman’s borders to tourists, so that the local community is well prepared for that fact, tourism industry representatives said at a Forum put together by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, following the Association’s AGM last night.
Marc Langevin, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, commended Tourism Minister and Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell and Commerce and Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew for attending the Ritz-Carlton held event, which he called a “very brave move”.
Langevin spoke of the twenty percent of Cayman population who were tourism industry workers and who were the “unfortunate victims” in this Covid-19 crisis.
He said that at the beginning of the crisis the communication between the Government and the hotel sector had gone very well, when the island was talking about perhaps shutting down for two or even four weeks, but now, eight months later, that dialogue had broken down. Mr Langevin said that there had recently been “radio silence” and weeks and weeks passed where they felt they were not important any more. As a result, the hotel sector had joined forces to try and create their own path to reopening Cayman to tourists.
Cayman well poised to open
He outlined that the hotels sector had found that Cayman had many strengths that went in its favour with regard to safely opening up, including its testing capacity and ratio, its hospital bed per capita ratio and the quality of its products and services. Cayman could learn from best practices currently being undertaken elsewhere in the world where border opening and subsequently, tourism, was safely happening. Cayman could implement pre-arrival testing as well as arrival testing (as per Bermuda), it could create tourism corridors and it could strengthen PPE usage among the industry.
Cayman’s weakness was that it had no clear vision for a recovery path, decisions by Government appeared to be motivated by emotion and not data and there were limitations to the current protocol. The hospitality industry had been disregarded and, as staff had had to be laid off and may well have left the island, the re-mobilisation process would be difficult. As a result, threats to Cayman’s tourism industry included the closure of businesses, unemployment, economic hardship of middle-class Caymanian entrepreneurs, the loss of talent and social disparity and unrest.
Mr Langevin questioned what could be done to restart the economy in a safe way.
“We’re not trying to just open widely and let it go, we certainly understand we have a responsibility, and every protocol that we have offered has multiple layers of protection, but it’s never good enough. We hear in this room that something has to be done but nobody is making a decision,” he said.
Mr Langevin said that he understood that the environment outside of Cayman, in the US and the UK, was not good but said Cayman had to start somewhere.
Opening up safely
A table of what other comparable jurisdictions were doing showed that some countries were able to welcome at least a small percentage of tourists. Pretty much all these jurisdictions were requiring a pre-arrival test and then sometimes following up with an arrival test.
“Currently there are some destinations who are enjoying 5,000 air arrivals a week,” he noted. “The planes are flying 45 to 50 per cent.”
He noted that St Thomas was particularly striking as it was welcoming 5,000 or so air arrivals a week but still had very low levels of Covid. Mr Langevin spoke of other destinations within the region able to safely open to tourists in a limited way.
“Clearly there are precedents; there are success stories, there is a way to control the reintroduction of tourism without arriving to that scenario which we fear in that we will all be back to quarantine, that we are going to shut down the island,” he confirmed.
Mr Langevin said that right now it was wonderful that we were all able to go to the grocery store without wearing a mask but, as wonderful as it was at the moment, it was not sustainable, especially for those people in the room whose businesses relied on tourists.
Director Rosa Harris spoke about the Global Citizen Programme that Cayman had hoped would attract at least some individuals to come and live and work in Cayman remotely for an overseas company for up to two years. She said that there had been thousands of hits on that programme’s website with 70 or so people applying so far for the programme, but only one person had at the time of writing had been approved. Ms Harris outlined that there were multiple agencies that had to approve the individuals, which took time. But the worry for the industry was how they would they derive any economic benefit from such people with such small numbers being approved.
Tourism Minister Kirkconnell said that had there not been a second wave of the virus the story would be very different, but under the current conditions the Government was waiting for circumstances to change with the introduction of a vaccine encouraging in this regard.
Government was accused of being in paralysis when it came to opening up of Cayman’s borders.
Minister Kirkconnell said the current state of lockdown was not wanted by anyone and said Government had been working had to figure out how the borders could reopen.
“It certainly seems like we haven’t done anything in the last eight months to open the borders but we have worked on it every day,” he said.
Mr Kirkconnell said that he did not believe the port would be opening up after December to cruise tourists, but that Government was considering the opening of the borders to air arriving tourists in the first quarter of 2021, if Cayman received its hoped-for vaccine in December.
“We believe we are at the end of this cycle, where we can open our borders,” he said. “First quarter of next year, we believe that if all the things we are being told happen, we should be opening.”