By Staff Writer
Persons relying on the government’s stipend for out of work tourism sector employees will continue receiving the payout for another six months.
Making the announcement in Parliament of Friday, Hon. Minister of Tourism, Moses Kirkconnell, said the scheme launched in April, will continue through to June 2021.
“Since we are not yet at the stage where we can safely reopen our borders to tourists, I am pleased to confirm that the Ministry will be extending the stipend payments for an additional six months, from January to June 2021, which we estimate will be another $18M,” Mr Kirkconnell said.
This is the third time that the scheme has been extended.
When it started in April, qualifying recipients were given monthly payments of CI$600 which was subsequently increased to CI$1,000 per month “when it was still unclear how long the pandemic would last”.
Since then, despite the news this week that vaccines have been approved and an immunisation campaign will be launched next month, the tourism sector has remained in limbo.
There has only been a gradual reopening of the borders with mounting calls by leaders in the industry for the government to rethink its strategy.
The Tourism Minister has admitted that 2020 has been a difficult year on many levels, particularly for those who rely on tourists for their income.
“As long as our borders remain closed, and the flights to our shores are limited to repatriation purposes only, the ability to make a living from tourism has been reduced,” Mr Kirkconnell stated.
However, he said, “we are not yet at the stage where we can safely reopen our borders to tourists.”
Against that background, the government has extended the stipend payments until the middle of next year.
Currently, there are 2,889 persons benefitting from the scheme, and they were due to receive their December payments on Friday.
“I trust that this assistance will help to ensure that Christmas is a little brighter for our tourism workers, and will ease some of the pressure being felt due to the absence of visitors,” said the Tourism Minister.
By the time it gets to June next year, the scheme will have cost government CI$33.6 million.
With pressure mounting on the government to rethink its border strategy with a view to revitalising the tourism sector, Mr Kirkconnell pointed to the announcement by Premier Alden McLaughlin that a COVID-19 vaccination programme is about to get started as “reason to be optimistic.”
“This reassuring news will help to pave the way for our borders to safely reopen and visitors to return to our shores, restoring gainful employment to thousands of Caymanians,” he stated.
“In the meantime, while the processes under the National COVID-19 vaccination plan are being implemented, this government will continue doing everything possible to support our tourism industry workers.”
According to Mr Kirkconnell, “Here in Cayman, we are blessed to be living in a relatively safe bubble, going about our business as normal, due to the immediate and severe action taken by this government in the early days of the crisis, to protect our citizens. But beyond our borders, it is a very different story.”
He observed that “as we speak, many of our source market cities are re-entering lockdowns or renewing restrictions to try to curtail the virus’s spread. This paints a bleak picture in terms of when we will likely be able to bring back tourism.”
However, with a COVID-19 vaccination programme about to roll-out in Cayman, Mr Kirconnell is hopeful of an imminent return to normal.
“The ability to be immunized against this highly contagious virus is the game-changing equalizer the world has been waiting for. Moreover, having a vaccine will allow us to take the first step on the road towards safely rebuilding our tourism industry.”