A scheme much like ABC’s reality TV series “Shark Tank,” designed to help budding entrepreneurs make their business dreams a reality, is part of government’s plans for the future of the tourism industry.

Under the proposal, Caymanian entrepreneurs would be able to pitch their ideas to an assessment panel in a bid to access low-interest loans and business mentorship.

The new National Tourism Plan, currently being presented to the public in a series of district meetings, recommends government develop a “Public-private Visitor Experience Challenge Fund.” The plan is still in the embryonic stage and would require a business case study to establish the structure and funding mechanism.

The concept is similar to the popular U.S. television show, “Shark Tank,” where hopeful entrepreneurs try to persuade business leaders to invest in their ideas.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said it could be used to assist enterprising young Caymanians in developing small business to help fill niches in the market.

“We’ve worked really hard over the last few years to get tourism where we want it in terms of arrivals. Now we have to make sure that Caymanians take advantage,” he said.

He said there were opportunities for small business development, particularly in accommodation, transport and attractions. But he believes tourism businesses require more up-front investment for longer-term returns and it can be hard to find financing from commercial banks. He said enterprising Caymanians could also benefit from the mentorship and support structure provided through the fund.

“There are currently no investment funds available for a start-up tourism product,” he said.

“If you are just coming out of the hospitality school or from university and you see a niche in the market, our thought is there would be a mentor available. You have a coach and you have help to write your business plan and look for funding, and then you deliver a tourism product that is needed.”

Mr. Kirkconnell said it could also be used on a small scale to help people develop properties and run them as guesthouses on Airbnb. Mr. Kirkconnell said the new fund could involve reforming the Cayman Islands Development Bank or establishing a completely separate entity.

The Development Bank has been beset by problems, including high default rates over the years – at one point approaching 70 percent – and in recent times has been largely unable to make small business loans, the primary function of development banks in most jurisdictions.

Mr. Kirkconnell acknowledged it would need to be substantially reformed if it was to play a role in the new tourism scheme.

A Strategic Outline Case seeking to define the structure/governance of the proposed tourism fund, the budget, financing, project evaluation and selection process, is one of the action items outlined in the tourism plan.

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