Don Foster’s dive shop goes out of business

Don Foster's dive shop is closing its doors
Don Foster's dive shop is closing its doors.

Don Foster’s dive shop – an institution of the Cayman Islands tourism industry for more than three decades – has become the latest victim of the coronavirus crisis.

Owner Mervyn Cumber told the Cayman Compass Monday that he had been left with no choice but to close the business, which he said had been a “labour of love”.

He said the decision of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the ban on cruise ship travel for another 100 days had been the “final nail in the coffin”.

Cumber said that he had no confidence that the cruise industry would be back in any material way in the near future. 

He added that the dive shop had been struggling since Carnival Cruise Lines pulled a contract at the end of 2018. 

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Now, with the virus shutting down global travel and the airport closed possibly until the end of the year, the business had become unsustainable.

“It has been a labour of love,” he said, “but since the Carnival thing and now with this virus and the closures [of the border], it is almost like a tsunami. 

“It is impossible to continue with the reality that it could be the end of the year before we have any business on the horizon.”

Even when Cayman reopens its borders, he believes tourists may not come back in large numbers.

“I think the cruise industry is going to change completely,” he said.

“I just think the numbers of people coming in on the ships is going to diminish and it is not going to be viable.”

Don Foster’s laid off 19 members of staff at the end of March, and Cumber said he would be putting his six boats up for sale. 

He said he had made an offer to two of his long-serving managers to take over some aspects of the business and keep it going in some form, which they are considering.

For Cumber, though, it is the end of the road. He bought the business from the Foster family in 1991 and it has gone on to become one of the most famous dive shops in Cayman.

Cumber said there had been many “ups and downs”, particularly since Hurricane Ivan. 

Contracts with the cruise lines have been a consistent source of worry and the decision of Carnival to pull out of a contract at the end of 2018 was the beginning of the end.

Don Foster’s runs scuba diving trips for stayover tourists and locals, but typically got steady income throughout the year from a high volume of cruise tourists taking snorkel and discover scuba tours.

“That put us in the lurch last year and it has been an absolute struggle to stay alive,” he said.

Cumber said he had negotiated deals with Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Disney to help bridge the gap, but none of those contracts were now viable until August at the earliest.

He said he would put his boats in dry dock at Harbour House Marina and try to find a buyer, though he expects there to be few takers right now.

He said many of the smaller operators were also struggling to survive and he expects more to go out of business in the coming weeks and months if they have not already.

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