Hotels board gets tough

Stiffer penalties and enforcement are to be implemented on tourist accommodations not in compliance with licensing regulations, according to President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Karie Bergstrom.

Ms Bergstrom was speaking to an attendance of about 40 people at the Hotels Licensing Board’s Tourist Accommodation Inspection and Licensing Seminar at the Courtyard Marriott Wednesday.

She explained that as president of the CITA, she has a responsibility to sit on the Hotels Licensing Board, as she can liaise with properties on any issues the board may have with them.

Although the Tourism Law is a sound law, there have been some holes in it, she said.

Enforcement has been difficult because posting closed signs on accommodations would have a negative impact on employees and tourism, but at the same time certain properties have chosen to ignore what is being asked of them, she said.

Changes are to occur with regard to this. ‘There will be stiffer penalties and enforcement. I can promise you that,’ Ms Bergstrom stated.

Giving a little background she noted that back in 1974 the Tourism Law came into effect. This law came about at a time when tourism was really beginning to take off in the Cayman Islands. When this law was enacted its main purpose was to make sure the product is the highest quality possible for visitors.

Under the Tourism Law a Hotels Licensing Board was established and given the authority to licence tourist accommodations operating in the Cayman Islands.

‘The process is extremely important to our product,’ she said.

The inspection process is also important for employees’ sakes, because of issues regarding health, safety and fire, she said. Parties that inspect the properties are the Department of Tourism, Department of Environmental Health and the Fire Department.

Ms Bergstrom mentioned that only four other Caribbean destinations in competition with the Cayman Islands carry out a rigorous process of inspection.

She was horrified at the standard of a four star hotel she stayed at in Bermuda. She admitted that this is because she is probably spoiled with our product here.

Ms Bergstrom mentioned some of the difficulties accommodations have had to face in Cayman since Hurricane Ivan, including trying to stay in business and helping the Department of Tourism to improve room stock.

There have also been challenges with insurance and some unique problems for condos.

However, property managers have had two years now to get their product back up and running

‘Your role is to get your properties up to speed,’ she said. ‘The Cayman Islands is built on a high standard and we target high end customers’.

Mentioning a recent tourism survey carried out by Deloitte for DoT, she said that a price point comparison was done with other countries, and Cayman was not necessarily the most expensive, but value perception for the price visitors were paying was an issue.

Giving some examples of how first impressions can be bad, Ms Bergstrom mentioned various scenes that will turn visitors off: surly staff, evidence of trash on the property, mildew in rooms, caulking of the sink not being in good condition or mirrors being brown on the edges.

Pointing out that 64 per cent of visitors to the Cayman Islands are repeat visitors she emphasised our biggest marketing tool is word of mouth. This is why it is so important to follow the guidelines for inspections and licensing.

Inspections are never carried out during high season, she noted, as right now inspection period is starting. This gives properties a chance to prepare

If inspectors find faults with a property there is a timeframe to fix the faults and they should be fixed, she stated.

Another problem that needs to be addressed is that of owners of condos operating their own business without the apartment being licensed.

The Board has made a recommendation to the Ministry of Tourism in order to amend this loophole in the law Ms. Bergstrom said.

If something goes wrong while the owner has let the apartment and it is not licensed then the condo manager will ultimately be liable, she said.

She urged property owners that if they suspect a condo owner is renting out his/her place that it needs to be reported to the secretary of the Hotels Licensing Board.

‘If it’s not licensed then it’s against the law,’ she said.

Ms Bergstrom has already spoken to strata executive committees on this, and reports that the Hotel’s Licensing Board will be very strict on this issue.

Ms Bergstrom said she is a proponent of putting a closed sticker on the door that does not meet requirements of the law.

Ms Bergstrom also urged property managers to be co-operative with the inspection process, to set the dates and call the inspectors in. ‘It’s your licence, not theirs,’ she noted.

Each operator will be allowed a maximum of two inspections (an annual and a re-inspection, if required).

There will be a penalty of higher fees if inspectors need to return more than this.

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