Cayman Islands tourism leaders today unveiled a comprehensive action plan for the recovery of the industry following the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis.

The plan, titled ‘RB5 – The Road Back to 500K Air Arrivals’, sets out a strategy to attract high-spending travellers and cater to the needs of more health-conscious visitors.

It also outlines a pivot to a more sustainable tourism strategy, citing increased demand for less crowded ‘natural destinations’ as a likely consequence of the pandemic.

The only mention of cruise tourism in the document is a reference to the fact that government has abandoned plans for cruise ship piers in George Town Harbour.

The strategy does not address immediate issues, such as a timeline for the resumption of commercial air travel into the Cayman Islands.

It focusses on the medium-term development of the destination, measures to support struggling businesses and unemployed workers, and strategies to help out-of-work Caymanians retool and retrain.

Some of the ideas set out in the document include:

  • Infrastructure upgrades at the airport to allow more automation and create a ‘low touch’ environment
  • Marketing focus on high-net-worth travellers who are expected to be the first tourists to come back
  • Expansion of source markets to stimulate more travel from the UK and Latin America
  • New Visitor Experience Development Fund to help provide funding and guidance to new business start-ups
  • New visitor management plans for natural attractions, such as Stingray City and Seven Mile Beach
  • A government guarantee initiative offering financial support to stimulate business
  • New training and career development programmes in partnership with UCCI, the hospitality school and hotels
  • Tax concessions for tourism businesses

The plan highlights Cayman’s handling of the virus as a potential asset in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“The successful management by Cayman Islands Government of the COVID-19 crisis in the Cayman Islands, resulting in incredibly low infection and mortality rates, should be highlighted in all marketing efforts to boost visitor confidence in the safety and strength of our jurisdiction,” the report notes.

Cayman’s handling of the virus should enhance its reputation as a safe destination, the report states.

It adds that the virus, while devastating for the tourism industry in the short term, may ultimately help the Cayman Islands in the long term.

“Although it may take a little time, the luxury travel industry will bounce back post-pandemic, with the experts believing that, if anything, it will benefit us all,” it states.

Sustainable tourism

The document includes an analysis of the existing five-year tourism plan, and states that the need to focus on sustainable tourism has become even more important.

It suggests the virus has created increased demand for vacations that offer sanctuary from the pressures and the business of the modern world.

“As a result of the pandemic, the experts predict that many more travellers will actively seek out less crowded trips, searching for privacy and a greater sense of calm and peacefulness,” it states.

“Off-the-beaten-track and natural destinations are sure to become even more in demand.”

Peaceful vacations in nature are expected to be a greater priority for travellers. – Photo: James Whittaker

It highlights two sustainability certification programmes – Travelife and Blue Flag – which Cayman hotels, villas, tour operators, attractions, beaches and marinas will seek. The programmes require stringent adherence to environmental standards in return for certification that gives credibility to sustainable tourism marketing, the report suggests.

Visitor management plans for key attractions, like the Stingray Sandbar, that control crowds and ensure protection of the attraction, as well as the tourist experience, are highlighted as an urgent pirority.

The report states that the priorities of the post-COVID traveller could be good for both the environment and the economy.

“A new paradigm of luxury travel that is life enriching and values-based is emerging. The good news is that it will contribute to the better world we have been imagining during this pandemic.”

Health adaptions

An increased focus on hygiene and health and safety is highlighted as another important priority for travellers in the wake of the pandemic.

The report suggests urgent upgrades are needed to the Owen Roberts International Airport.

It highlights a global aviation task force report which indicated that a ‘low touch’ airport experience, with technologies such as biometrics and automated gates, will become the norm, and suggests Cayman move quickly to make those adaptions.

Managing the passenger experience at Owen Roberts International Airport is considered crucial. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

New standards and certifications for hoteliers and other tourism businesses are also being put in place.

“All travellers will have cleanliness and safety protocols at top of mind. With the luxury segment, there is an expectation that the amenities will be in place, but safety will be the priority,” the report states.

Workforce development

The impact of the pandemic on people working in the tourism industry is highlighted as a key concern. While a short-term stipend has been provided to help unemployed Caymanians through the worst period, training is a longer-term focus.

The plan highlights initiatives to help people who previously depended on cruise tourism switch to the stayover sector. It also proposes the development of a scheme to support new businesses.

“We will introduce job placement, continued education and an employment training partnership programme,” it states.

“These programmes will support the retooling, upskilling and job placement success for those tourism employees that are impacted by COVID-19 and are forced to pivot to new job responsibilities in tourism.”

Other proposals include a partnership with WORC, UCCI and the hospitality school to create an ‘accelerated vocational programme’ to get Caymanians into jobs vacated by departing work-permit holders. A marketing campaign to introduce tourism as a viable career for locals is also proposed.

New markets

With the US heavily impacted by the virus, the report highlights the chance to target new markets, including Europe and South America.

All passenger flights in and out of Cayman will be suspended for 3 weeks.

It suggests Argentina, which has maintained strict COVID-19 protocols, as a possible immediate target for new routes. Brazil and Mexico are highlighted as longer-term options, utilising Cayman Airways, as the virus gets under control in those countries.

“There will also be opportunity for additional exposure to other source markets during this time to raise the awareness in those markets; namely, the United Kingdom and Latin America. Partnerships with Cayman Airways and other regional airlines will present an opportunity to service markets such as Latin America.”

Chance to rebuild

The report states that the virus has provided Cayman with an opportunity to reinvent tourism and build a more resilient and sustainable industry.

It noted, “This is the time to drive innovation, capitalise on our assets and re-enter the travel marketplace as the top Caribbean destination to visit.

“Our aim is to protect our people and environment, celebrate our cultural heritage, while ensuring a vibrant tourism economy that benefits the people of the Cayman Islands.”

Read the full report here.

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