Retraining out-of-work Caymanians to play a bigger role in the stayover tourism industry will be part of the focus of a new three-year plan for the stricken sector. A 3-month stipend and an increase in scholarship funding are also being put in place to ease the transition.
Government has acknowledged that it will not be able to proceed with plans for a new cruise berthing facility in George Town Harbour.
And questions remain over the future of the cruise industry amid uncertainty over public health guidelines, which are likely to define the parameters of post-COVID-19 travel.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell acknowledged air arrivals were likely to recover much faster than the cruise industry.
He said social-distancing regulations are also likely to impact the viability of some businesses, including tour operators that depend on high-volume tourism.
“Right now, we are completely focussed on stayover,” he added.
Economist Paul Byles, of consultancy firm FTS, has been hired to help create a three-year plan for the recovery of the industry.
Part of that process will be to look at shifting employees from one sector of the industry to another.
“We have increased scholarship funding so we can get people into classrooms and allow them to take advantage of the jobs becoming available in tourism,” Kirkconnell said.
“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.”
Government is currently registering unemployed tourism workers and had compiled a database of more than 1,000 names by Wednesday of this week.
Kirkconnell said government was looking at a three-month stipend for those workers, as well as linking them to training opportunities.
He also hopes the return of inter-island tourism and staycations can help some people get back to work.
Domestic tourism also provided an opportunity to fine-tune post-COVID-19 operational procedures for businesses.
“There are basic protocols that will have to be established around health and sanitation,” he said. “We will make these decisions in partnership with [Chief Medical Officer] Dr. [John] Lee and the health sector in Cayman.”
From Cayman Airways to North Sound tour boat operators, all businesses are likely to feel the impact of social-distancing restrictions in the early phase of the recovery.
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. He believes stayover tourism could begin to return to normal by the 2021/22 high season.