Cayman’s tourism industry was on track for a positive first quarter, with air arrivals for January and February exceeding numbers for the same period last year, but then COVID-19 happened.
What ensued in the wake of the ongoing pandemic was the complete collapse of the industry as government closed Cayman’s borders.
However, Department of Tourism Director Rosa Harris said in a Zoom interview with the Cayman Compass that she is confident in the industry’s resilience and ability to bounce back.
“We’ve been receiving lots of emails and phone calls relating to when the airport will reopen, when they can rebook. I get a lot of LinkedIn messages from professionals across the world that say, ‘I was booked for this summer. I’m going to push it back. We were sad that we couldn’t make it, but we still want to come’,” she said.
Cayman, she added, remains a desired destination.
“Our tourism partners have been very busy, being able to adjust and shift reservations as the decisions on the border are made,” Harris said.
This week, Premier Alden McLaughlin said the projected 1 Sept. reopening of local borders is not “looking good”, given the scale of the virus now ravaging the US, Cayman’s largest tourist market.
Getting Cayman back on track
Earlier this month, Deputy Premier and Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said a plan is being developed to rebuild the industry.
Cayman registered 42,851 air arrivals in January and 50,707 in February, and Harris believes Cayman can get back to those kinds of numbers.
However, she said the process will take some effort and it will take all hands on deck, with Caymanians leading the charge for economic recovery.
Tourism, she said, is “the second pillar of the Cayman Islands economy. We have a role to play, to re-establish and get back on the road to where we were.”
“I think that we also have to take it one day at a time knowing that there’s a lot of things that we need to prepare for before the first [tourist] visits the Cayman Islands when we reopen, and what I would say is we’re not in this alone. The entire world is figuring this out, and our goal at the Department of Tourism is to support our partners here on island,” she said.
A part of that, she said, is having a positive point of view as to how Cayman approaches its relationships with those in the travel trade, “those that book travel, airlines, those that call into Cayman and also all of the events and the various platforms that we use to promote the destination.”
With borders closed since March, a number of tourism-related companies, such as restaurants, bars and dive shops, have already shut their doors, and Harris said as the border closure continues, “there’s a number of businesses that may or may not make it through this period”.
However, she said the DoT is available to offer support for those that require it.
“We’ve been doing focus groups with tourism partners here in Grand Cayman and we’re also having discussions with travel partners and advertising partners for when we will be ready to re-enter the market. A lot is unknown, but we still have to remain positive,” she said.
Opportunities for Caymanians
Thousands of work-permit holders have already left Cayman due to job loss and, with many more set to depart, Harris said now is the time for Caymanians to take a good look at tourism careers or opening their own tourism business.
She said the DoT has hosted free webinars as part of its Personal Responsibility in Delivering Excellence (PRIDE) programme to assist in this regard and it includes workshops on Cayman’s history and tourism-related training.
“I believe that when our industry is relaunched, there will be prime opportunity for Caymanians to apply and to pursue the career that they’ve always wanted to pursue and had not done so, for whatever [reason],” she said.
“I also see the entrepreneurial opportunity. There’s a lot of businesses in the industry that are bespoke, small but successful, and they grow over time,” she said, adding that opportunities would also be identified through Cayman’s national tourism plan.
“We still have the same commitment for tourism to be able to grow community tourism, to be able to offer more opportunities to Caymanians. Now’s the time for anyone who’s interested to take up our webinars and have that continued training and professional development,” she said.
“We’re very proud of our School of Hospitality Studies and being able to place more Caymanians in the industry, but now we have this period to reconsider a professional path,” Harris added.
“You know, owning a business [or pursuing a career in] tourism, now’s the time to be able to learn as much as possible … through the webinars that we have for entrepreneurs,” she said.
For more information about the webinars, visit pride.ourcayman.ky.