Citing lost revenue, particularly from vacationers, several local business representatives questioned the law prohibiting alcohol sales during Referendum Day, 18 July.
The law prohibits liquor from being “sold, offered for sale or given away” by liquor licence holders from 7am, when the polls open, to 7pm, an hour after the polls close. The penalty under the section is a fine of $500 or imprisonment for six months.
The bah applies to all licence holders, including wholesale distributors, retailers, hotels, restaurants, bars, commercial boating operations and mobile licence holders.
“While we certainly understand and respect the need for an orderly voting process, this law is far too draconian and will hurt local businesses at a time when they can least afford it. The industry has suffered heavily over the last few years and we are disappointed that the law hasn’t been relaxed,” said Mat Bishop, general manager of Cayman Distributors Group, which includes BlackBeard’s, Big Daddy’s and Rum Stop duty free liquors.
No drinks for visitors
“The real absurdity however, is that this law is also applied to the duty-free segment of the market. Cruise ship passengers and those leaving through the airport are also prevented from purchasing alcohol on the day despite the fact that duty-free items cannot be consumed on the Island. This is an asinine situation and completely the wrong message to send to our guests,” Mr. Bishop said.
Michele Ebanks, assistant manager of Cracked Conch and Macabuca, said her business usually gets bombarded by cruise tourists from about 11am to 2pm during the weekday as they come and go from the Turtle Farm. She said it’s difficult to explain to tourists why they can’t buy a CayBrew just because there’s an election occurring.
“Locals, they don’t get all outraged because they know it’s happening. They don’t have to agree with it, but they know what’s going on,” she said. “People on holiday can get really, really upset.”
Ms Ebanks said, “It affects the Island as a whole because it’s taking revenue away for the Island from people that have nothing to do with the vote.”
In addition to business losses, government misses out on proceeds from duty on alcohol. Duty rates range from 27 per cent on the price of beer, to $10.50 per litre of champagne, to $11.55 per litre of most spirits.
Mr. Bishop said, “There will be a large number of cruise ship passengers who choose not to disembark as a result of this policy. Many look forward to buying Cayman destination products like Blackbeard’s, Tortuga, or 7 Fathoms, or simply having cold beer with lunch at Royal Palms or Calico Jacks, but are forced instead to sail onto another jurisdiction to spend their money. It’s madness.”
Due to the ban, Royal Palms will not open Wednesday until 7pm, manager Philip Walsh said.
“If you can’t get a drink on Wednesday at the bar, people will go to BlackBeard’s the day before, get a load of beer and sit on the beach,” Mr. Walsh said. “You’re crippling business for the sake of putting on a show that you can’t drink before voting.”
Mr. Bishop said, “We certainly encourage people to fulfil their democratic responsibilities, but we disagree that local businesses must suffer as a result.”
He added, “We recognise that the Liquor Licensing Board is simply adhering to the law they’ve been given. It may be a strict interpretation, but they’re just doing their job.”
Double whammy for The Ritz
As a mitigating factor of the ban’s impact on cruise passenger spending, only one cruise ship, the Carnival Valor, is scheduled to call on Grand Cayman on Wednesday, carrying nearly 3,000 passengers. However, July is one of the busiest months for stayover tourism, ranking behind only March and April in terms of air arrivals from 2003-2011, according to government statistics.
Marc Langevin, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said the company values operating on Island that prizes the democratic process, but the liquor ban and public holiday will doubly impact business.
“The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is nearly fully committed on the Referendum Day with both leisure guests enjoying their summer holiday and a corporate incentive group recognising its top performers. It will be a challenge for our ladies and gentlemen to explain to these guests why they cannot enjoy a cocktail on the beach. From a guest perspective, there is no logical correlation between Cayman’s electoral proceedings and their desire to relax on their vacation with a drink,” he said.
While hotel bars fall under the ban, mini-bars within rooms are exempt from the law because they are private, according to the Elections Office. On the other hand, hotel guests who purchase alcohol before Referendum Day will not be allowed to consume alcohol in public areas (i.e. at the pool or golf course) during the ban period because the public areas fall within the premises to which the establishment’s liquor licence applies, according to an email sent by the Cayman Islands Tourism Associations to its members, who had sought clarification on the rules.
“However, from a financial perspective, labour costs will affect us much more than lost revenue from alcohol sales. We will have more than 600 ladies and gentlemen working at holiday wages on Wednesday owing to the high occupancy, a majority of whom cannot vote,” Mr. Langevin said. “For our Caymanian ladies and gentlemen we are working hard to ensure each employee has ample time to vote and take care of family responsibilities while working their shift if scheduled. It is not an option for us to staff lightly to mitigate the cost because that would compromise the guest experience and the service they expect from The Ritz-Carlton.”
Could be worse
Others said the liquor ban wouldn’t stifle business for the day.
“We’ll still be busy,” said Carol Boulton, food and beverage manager for Rum Point Club Restaurant. “We were busy on the last election because, believe it or not, the blenders do blend non-alcoholic versions of things, too.”
She said, “The kitchen’s still open. The sodas and juices will flow.”
Grand Old House manager Lazlo Boros said his restaurant usually stays closed until 6pm on public holidays anyway. With alcohol not allowed until 7pm, restaurant staff are calling and advising people to delay their reservations.
“It’s pointless for people to arrive at Grand Old House when they will obviously not be able to enjoy a glass of wine with their meal,” Mr. Boros said.
Sean Collins, owner of Mise en Place, said fortunately nobody had arranged for his business to cater any events that day. However, he criticised the normal restriction on his mobile liquor licence that compels him to give the liquor board seven days’ notice before he can serve alcohol at an event. He said that’s an onerous restriction that often forces him to turn down last-minute requests to run bar service at functions.
“You can’t increase fees on the one hand and continue to put on the limitations that we have,” Mr. Collins said.
Peter Dutton, managing director of Jacques Scott, said he anticipates to see a bump in package store sales as people stock up before the public holiday.
“We expect we will be busy on Tuesday, but I don’t expect it to be anything untoward. We expect the pattern to be similar to that before other holidays, of which there have been several so far this year,” he said.
Mr. Dutton said some of the package stores typically open for a limited number of hours during public holidays, if allowed, but the amount of business done on those days is generally minimal.
Mr. Bishop said his company expects to see an increase in package store sales on Monday and Tuesday, but that is unlikely to offset the loss of business on Wednesday.
“The real losers in this however will be the bars and restaurants, and I encourage everyone in Cayman to help these businesses by making a dinner reservation or planning some drinks with your friends and family later in the week,” he said.