Tuesday’s scene on Public Beach at Seven Mile Beach this week was a familiar one, with unlicensed vendors setting up at the waterfront, beach chairs stacked up dozens high and Waverunners and banana boats gliding past swimmers in shallow waters next to shore.
The situation at Cayman’s main tourism attraction has been under review by government officials for a number of months with an eye toward better regulating and controlling the numbers of vendors who operate on the beach.
On Tuesday, Ministry of Tourism Deputy Chief Officer Dalton Watler visited the beach, only to see that government’s plan for the area has yet to be implemented.
Mr. Watler said another extension, for 45 days, has been granted to the vendors, taking them through mid-September “at the latest” to comply with local laws and gain permission from Cabinet to operate their businesses on public land.
At the center of the difficulty for the vendors, most of whom are self-employed or who run small “mom-and-pop” operations, are licensing requirements to provide pensions and healthcare for themselves and any employees they might have, Mr. Watler said.
“Some of them still need to provide health [coverage], pension and insurance, in the case of the Jet Skis [operators],” Mr. Watler said. “They have already complied with the courses we put in place, the ‘know your Cayman Islands,’ the customer service. Some have done CPR courses as well.”
Mr. Watler said the Trade and Business Licensing Board has agreed to give the vendors – now numbering between 38 and 45 – another 45 days to get their operations in order. The vendors were granted a 30-day extension in July, with government officials hoping they could become licensed by the end of the month and begin operating in a specifically defined area away from the waterfront.
Garth Arch, chairman of the Trade and Business Licensing Board, said the 45-day extension is the final one the board intends to approve for the vendors.
Mr. Watler said Wednesday that the initial 30-day extension was not enough time and that government did not want to force the Public Beach operators to shut down.
“That doesn’t help,” he said. “The idea for them is to be self-sustaining. It might sound like we are trying to just put red tape out there, but the government is doing what they require for [the vendors] to operate businesses that can comply with social norms and comply with the law.”
“We ask people to be patient,” he added.
The government has identified a specific location behind the public bathroom in the Public Beach area, where Mr. Watler said it was proposed to put 16 government-funded kiosks for vendors to operate from.
The vendors cannot be moved there now, he said, because the kiosks have not been set up and the vendors are not licensed – essentially they are continuing to operate illegally. The extension period serves to prevent them from facing fines issued by the Department of Commerce and Investment while the situation is resolved.
He acknowledged that not all of the vendors will be able to fit into the 16 kiosks government has proposed to set up, but he said some of the vendors could share the stalls.
“The idea is to have a minimum presence [of vendors] on the beach so that people can walk and do things on it,” he said.
Residents and businesses along Seven Mile Beach have put significant pressure on government since the start of this year, complaining that unlicensed vendors, discarded trash and dangerous watercraft operations have created a “lawless mentality” on the beach.
“The very symbol of this beautiful island and the magnet that draws both Caymanians and multitudes of tourists is being destroyed before our very eyes,” read the residents’ eight-page letter sent to Tourism Ministry Councilor Joey Hew.