Staycations boom provides boost for struggling tourism industry

Kimpton sells out available rooms for two weekends

Bellman Andre Campbell flings open the doors to the Kimpton resort to welcome hotel guests for the first time since March. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Staycations are starting to sell out across Cayman as island residents shake off months of lockdown and opt for holidays at home.

With the borders closed until September at least, hundreds of families have been forced to cancel summer vacations overseas.

Since government gave the all-clear for hotels and villas to reopen last week, there have been significant local bookings.

The Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa is sold out for the next two weekends – something tourism industry leaders did not expect to see this year.

Across Grand Cayman, from The Ritz-Carlton on Seven Mile Beach to the Morritt’s Tortuga Club in East End, hoteliers are reporting solid bookings for the next two months.

Luxury villas and holiday condos are also seeing a spike in interest.

It is a temporary boost for the ailing tourism industry and a period that many business owners say will allow them to fine-tune their post-COVID protocols before overseas visitors return.

Steven Andre, general manager at the Kimpton on Seven Mile Beach, said the resort had offered a special rate for locals and had been thrilled with the response so far. Fewer rooms than usual are available as the resort complies with measures mandated by government for all hotels

“We are fully committed on available rooms and suites for the next two Saturday nights,” he said.

Housekeeper Brenda Ebanks makes sure the Kimpton is ready for visitors. Photo: Taneos Ramsay

At The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, general manager Marc Langevin said the hotel was seeing a mix of families booking weekend getaways and ‘staycationers’ checking in for seven-night stays.

While he said the number of reservations is “modest” compared to normal times, the influx of local tourists has allowed the hotel to put another 100 people back to work.

“This is the true victory as we slowly but surely bring our resort back to life and we jump back on the road to recovery,” he said.

Holiday homes are seeing steady business too.

Jim Leavitt, general manager of Grand Cayman Villas and Condos, is responsible for 86 properties, ranging from $200-a-night one-bedroom condos to $12,000-a-night luxury Seven Mile Beach homes.

Since staycations were sanctioned, he has taken more than 150 bookings for the next few months across the full spectrum of properties. He said people who would ordinarily holiday overseas were using the money saved on airfares to splash out on large villas for family get-togethers.

A chance to support local business

While Cayman remains watchful over the coronavirus, there is an element of post-lockdown celebration among the community.

For those who remained employed throughout the crisis, some of them working round-the-clock, it is a chance to take a well-earned break and support the sector of the economy that has suffered most.

Former television news anchor Tammi Sulliman was disappointed to have to cancel a planned trip to Greece, where her partner’s family are from.  Instead they  quickly shifted gears from Santorini to Seven Mile Beach.

Tammi Sulliman, her daughter Leila Sulliman-Maw and partner Yianni Georgakopoulos on a previous trip to Greece.

Though she is crossing the road – rather than crossing the ocean – like many staycationers, it is the chance to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life that she is looking forward to most.

“We take for granted sometimes what we have in our back yard,” she said. “This is a really unique place that we are lucky to call home.”

While it has been a tough few months, she recognises that she is lucky, compared to those who have lost work amid the economic impact of the virus.

“We need to shop local, stay local, eat local. It is a vacation for us but also we want to support our local businesses,” she said.

For Juliet Cumber-Forget, managing director of Cayman Villas, those are trends that are reflected among many of the guests booking stays with her company, which is responsible for 85 properties island-wide.

Juliet Cumber-Forget, Managing Director at Cayman Villas. Photo: Submitted

“Pre-COVID19, many were so busy with work, and school, and families, and life, that they may not have taken the time to go up to East End, Cayman Kai, Barkers Beach, or even Seven Mile Beach for that matter,” she said.

She said most were looking for a chance to recharge their batteries and refresh their minds.

East End, North Side prove popular

Cumber-Forget said North Side, Rum Point and Cayman Kai were proving most popular when it came to the bookings she was getting.

Bill Powers, who runs the Morritt’s Tortuga Club, is seeing a similar trend. He believes those extra few miles from George Town make East End and North Side particularly attractive destinations.

“That drive out east feels like an excursion in itself,” he said.

He has seen significant take-up of the resort’s staycation offer and he believes the charm of the location is a big selling point.

“East End can feel like a different part of the Caribbean. It is quiet, it’s laid back, it’s peaceful,” he said.

Dark cloud still hovers over industry

While staycations are providing a temporary boost to struggling businesses, it is a silver lining to what is still a very dark cloud for the tourism industry.

“It is a Band-Aid, but it helps,” said Powers.

Leavitt agrees.

“Staycations aren’t really going to move the needle for us as a company,” he acknowledged. “It is more of an opportunity to get our people back to work, our housekeepers and property managers, and to shake off the cobwebs.”

For others, like Sunset House, the staycation market doesn’t make much sense.

The hotel is centrally located in George Town and its business model is really geared to vacationing scuba divers booking multi-day dive packages.

While the restaurant and dive business are open for locals, manager Anne Briggs said the hotel was taking the time to do some renovations in preparation for the return of overseas visitors.

Until that happens, she says, most resorts are in limbo. Decisions about hiring staff and renewing work permits will remain difficult until a date is set for the reopening of the borders.

When that happens, she believes, customers will be desperate to come back to Cayman.

“People want to come here,” she said, “They are really not asking us about testing or coronavirus protocols, they just want to know, when can we come visit?”

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