Tourism leaders are working on a new three-year plan for the revival of the industry in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
With the Cayman Islands borders closed since March, tourism has been the hardest-hit sector of the economy.
Hotels, restaurants and attractions have been closed and thousands of jobs have been impacted.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell told the Cayman Compass on Monday that his staff were working with health officials on a plan for the phased recovery of the industry.
He said private-sector partners, including leading hoteliers, had been consulted, and economist Paul Byles, founder of local company FTS, has been enlisted to assist with a three-year plan for tourism.
“As a strong pillar of our economy that contributes highly to our GDP, it is imperative to implement a strategic plan that will restore our tourism industry in the medium and long term and propel our Caymanian tourism employees back into the workplace safely,” Kirkconnell stated in a press release, issued Monday.
Byles also authored an economic impact assessment for the Chamber of Commerce, which forecast more than 5,000 jobs could be lost in tourism by the end of the year.
Kirkconnell told the Compass a large focus of the new tourism plan would be on training Caymanians who had lost work to fill different roles in the industry.
He expects stayover tourism to recover faster than the cruise industry and some of those impacted may have to transition from one sector of tourism to another.
Social-distancing regulations are also expected to affect the viability of some businesses, including tour operators that depend on high-volume tourism.
“With thousands of work-permit holders going back home, we will have training available for any Caymanian that wants to participate in the economy through stayover tourism,” Kirkconnell said.
Focus on domestic tourism
The first phase of recovery is expected to focus on staycations and inter-island tourism, which Kirkconnell believes can be used to help fine-tune post-COVID-19 operational procedures for businesses.
International marketing and development of testing protocols that could allow for the borders to reopen to some visitors are also part of the plan.
Stayover arrivals hit an all-time high of more than 500,000 last year.
Kirkconnell acknowledged it could take some time to get back to that level. But, while the future of the cruise industry remains uncertain, he is confident that visitors want to return to the islands.
He believes stayover tourism could begin to return to normal by the 2021/22 high season.
But, he said, it was essential that any reopening to visitors happened in a phased and careful way, both to protect the local population and to maintain the islands’ reputation as a safe place to vacation.
The press release, issued by the Department of Tourism, indicated that its staff had been working with private-sector partners on several initiatives in the early stages of the crisis.
These included sector-wide surveys; consultation with Cayman Islands Tourism Association, Chamber of Commerce, hoteliers and other industry leaders; a needs registry for Caymanians impacted by the crisis; and collaboration with transport and hotel regulators on new recommendations to support the industry
The press release highlighted four main categories that would feature in the recovery plan:
- Reinvention for Readiness: Identify current stakeholder challenges and develop the best methodologies to reactivate the tourism sector in an effective and efficient return to be a top pillar of the economy.
- Domestic Economy: Identify strategies to positively impact the country through domestic tourism as the Cayman Islands transitions through the phases of the COVID-19 crisis to recovery.
- Global Economy: Extensive global marketing and promotions of the best practices and methodologies put in place to ensure the Cayman Islands’ tourism products and services are operating with the highest safety and sanitation standards for accommodations, events, diving, tours and attractions, transportation, and culinary experiences.
- Future Tourism Sector Employment: This adaptation strategy will develop new definitions of roles within the industry, including the necessary retraining of tourism professionals to adapt to a new way of operating in the tourism market.
In the press release, Kirkconnell stated, “This plan is crucial to the recovery of our tourism industry. I am pleased to have my team working with well-known local economist Paul Byles, founder and director of FTS.
“We look forward to continued stakeholder engagement to receive their valuable insights and expertise to this holistic recovery plan. Together we will engage with the sector to ensure that new policies and safety measures are in place to ensure that our guests know we are ready to welcome them back.
“This is a plan for success for all Caymanians and those who support our dynamic tourism industry.”
- For full interview with Moses Kirkconnell and more on regional tourism recovery plans, see Friday’s edition of the Cayman Compass.