A throng of unlicensed beach vendors has packed into Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach since the issue erupted into the spotlight early this year, while there has been no apparent enforcement of rules or any working agreement between government and the vendors.
Late last week, rental chairs were stacked high along the beachfront, and the chairs in use were placed right at the water line next to Jet Skis beached on shore. One vendor had a large truck parked on the sand at the beachfront, and multiple food and beverage vendors set up shop closer to the beach parking area.
Two months ago, many of these vendors were fined $500 by the government Department of Commerce and Investment for operating unlicensed businesses on Crown land.
However, their operations have not been removed, and problems apparently arose with at least one of those citations.
“It went to court, it got thrown out,” said beach vendor Raul Gonzales, who runs Blue Water Islands Adventure Tours, which rents Jet Ski rides and offers snorkeling tours to beach visitors.
Attorney Phillip Ebanks, who has been representing some of the beach vendors involved in the controversy, confirmed last week that Mr. Gonzales’s fine was dropped in Summary Court. Mr. Gonzales said he was unaware as of Saturday that any other vendors had been called to court to contest their citations.
Both Mr. Ebanks and Mr. Gonzales said they believe a meeting is being scheduled with Ministry of Tourism officials to discuss the entire beach vending matter, but it has not happened yet.
“They’re still giving us the run-around,” Mr. Gonzales said. “The government told us they were going to take care of it and not to worry about it.”
However, Mr. Gonzales said, that was not the message he received from senior Planning Ministry and Tourism Ministry officials last week.
Vendor kiosks that the government said would be set up toward the southeastern corner of Public Beach at Seven Mile Beach, behind the public bathroom facility, have not materialized. Mr. Gonzales said he was told last week that the kiosks, a central tenet of the earlier agreement beach vendors had with government, would not be built for at least another 18 months to two years.
Meanwhile, he said, the beach vendors had met all licensing requirements – including tourism training – and had attempted to pay for and collect operating licenses, only to be told by the Lands and Survey Department of the Planning Ministry in October that those licenses did not exist, as far as officials were aware.
“They told us we could set up behind the bathrooms, but that’s just not feasible right now,” Mr. Gonzales said. “They haven’t even marked out a spot [behind the rest room area]. We ain’t getting anywhere.”
Tourism Ministry Deputy Chief Officer Dalton Watler said in late October that a list of Public Beach vendors who had qualified to keep operating in the area was released in September. As far as his ministry was concerned, Mr. Watler said, those vendors had met the requirements of tourism and customer service training standards. Other issues involving licensing and public land operations were not in the tourism ministry’s purview, he said.
Planning ministry officials have never responded to Cayman Compass questions on the issue.
A half-dozen vendors who were fined $500 by the Department of Commerce and Investment said in November that they would attend court dates rather than pay the fine. A number of vendors told the Cayman Compass that they tried on various occasions to obtain a trade and business license but were foiled by the bureaucratic process.
The beach vending issue arose during 2012-2013 and came to the fore again in March 2016 when condo owners, including those at Harbour Heights and the Avalon Condominiums near Public Beach, voiced concerns to government officials about illegal vendors “overrunning” Seven Mile Beach.