Thousands of guest workers left because of the impact of COVID-19.

Commercial airlines will not resume scheduled flights to Cayman when the borders tentatively reopen in September.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell told the Cayman Compass in an interview this week that government was planning a ‘soft opening’, with stringent protocols that would enable some travel to resume.

Private aircraft and yachts will be allowed to enter the islands.

The number of government-organised flights, in partnership with Cayman Airways and British Airways, is expected to increase, depending on demand.

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But Kirkconnell said government was erring on the side of caution and would not take any undue risks.  He hopes to open to a wider pool of visitors with the resumption of commercial air traffic by the start of what is traditionally the high season for tourism in mid-November.

But he said the situation was fluid and a decision will depend on the advice from
public health officials and Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee.

Flights

Access to flights into Cayman from 1 Sept. will theoretically be open to anyone who applies, if they can meet the testing criteria and comply with other measures put in place by government.

But with planes running at half capacity, officials are working on a system that will give priority to Caymanians, permanent residents, work-permit holders and property owners.

Kirkconnell does not expect to see an influx of short-stay tourists. He believes some property owners or wealthy visitors may choose to come to the islands for long stays.

The border opening will also give the opportunity for people living in Cayman to visit family overseas and return to the islands.

Moving people safely through the airport is a key concern.

The current plan includes options for monitored self-isolation at home, as well as isolation in a government facility. A competitive bid process for interested hoteliers to provide that service is currently being determined.

In the first phase of Cayman’s border reopening, travellers who test negative for COVID-19 three days prior to arriving on island can wear a ‘BioButton’ monitoring device and self-isolate at a residence of their choice for five days, or, if they choose not to wear the device, must quarantine at a government-managed facility for 14 days.

Those wearing the BioButton take a second PCR test five days after arrival and, if negative, will continue their bio-monitoring for a further nine days without the requirement to self-isolate.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has extended its ‘no sail order’ on cruise ships through September and is expected to continue the ban beyond that date. The Cayman government has not yet contemplated protocols that would allow ships to return. Kirkconnell said the sole focus right now is stayover tourism.

He acknowledged government’s measures were quite stringent in comparison with other jurisdictions but cautioned that several islands, including the Bahamas, had opened their borders only to be forced to close them again.

Long-term plan

Kirkconnell believes a cautious approach now is the best strategy for Cayman in the long term – not just for the health of its people, but for the health of the economy.

He said the soft opening would give the islands a chance, during the traditionally slow months of September and October, to fine-tune procedures for processing visitors and to be ready for the ‘new normal’ when commercial schedules resume, hopefully before the end of the year.

Some of the details of how that will happen remain under review. It is not yet clear, for example, how many flights could arrive at one time or what protocols or infrastructure upgrades will be needed to allow passengers safe transit through the Owen Roberts International Airport.

Getting these measures right is imperative for Cayman’s reputation as a destination, Kirkconnell believes.

Moses Kirkconnell

If the reopening is handled with the same care and the same success as the health crisis, he believes that will help the island in the longer term – even if it means less tourism in the short term.

“Where we want to leave ourselves is with a return on investment from how we managed this pandemic,” the tourism minister said. “We want the world to understand that because the country itself was very stable and had a diversified economy, we were able to make the right decisions and do things in a way that protected the population, and will protect business going forward.”

Business support

Kirkconnell said government would provide support for businesses struggling to make ends meet as they wait for tourists to return. More than 2,000 unemployed workers are currently receiving a monthly stipend.

A government-guaranteed loan programme is being developed to help struggling businesses survive what is expected to be a continued slow period.

The Ministry of Tourism released a report this week titled ‘RB5, the Road Back to 500K Arrivals’ – a reference to the record figures achieved in 2019. It outlines plans to enhance sustainable tourism and get more Caymanians working in the stayover sector.

The report suggests off-the-beaten-track destinations that offer peaceful vacations in nature will be in high demand as tourists shun crowds in search of privacy and tranquility.

It recommends visitor-management plans are put in place for key attractions like Seven Mile Beach and Stingray City and suggests Cayman businesses and attractions seek international certification from two recognised sustainability programmes – Blue Flag and Travelife. The report states that the priorities of the post-COVID traveller could be good for both the environment and the economy.

A management plan for Stingray City and other attractions is in the works.

“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,” the report stated.

Kirkconnell believes it could take up to 36 months for visitor numbers to get close to the levels achieved in recent years.

“The industry was in a real growth spurt when we were hit by this crisis that nobody could have predicted. In a matter of a week, we went from the peak to the bottom. We are not going to get back to the peak in a week,” he said.

Despite that, he believes there are plenty of reasons for optimism.

The fundamentals that helped the Cayman Islands hit those record numbers are still in place. And Kirkconnell believes the new plan can help the islands put in place the necessary protocols and target the right customers to thrive in the post-COVID world.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. As said
    Better be safe than sorry.
    Caution is the word. It is exactly like you have relaxation on a leash and should be in a position to pull back on a moments notice.
    Easier said than done, but that’s what it is.
    It’s like putting a person on an endurance test. One step at a time.
    The only negative factor is the long duration of time needed and the ability to endure and impact on the economic side of it.
    A balancing act. I hope And wish the authorities succeed.
    Till next time
    Guri

  2. While I like the approach, Yachts and Private plans only will not stabilize the travel economy.

    I own property in Cayman and right now you are telling me I won’t be able to visit the island till commercial flights can land.

    Also, the reason the Bahamas closed is, they opened with ZERO protective procedures in place and the American influx happened.

    You will need to block almost ALL US travelers till they gain control of their spread.

    I’m not an American. I’m willing to be tested prior to leaving Canada and when I land in Cayman, I welcome the Bio Button and I hope I can quietly isolate in my condo for 5 days, then test and move around for another 7 with my button.

    Currently Minister Kirkconnell, your plans are far to dynamic and offer little or no guidance to the majority of homeowners that have invested in your island.

  3. So when someone wears this device and they are out in the hot sun and their temperature goes up, or they go for a run and their heart rate rises, will the police just show up and forcibly detain them and bring them in to get tested against their will? That alone will deter tourists, not to mention the ridiculous BioButton tan line everyone is going to have.

  4. I am a property owner. Can my wife sit on the beach for the 5 days Can I go for a walk on the beach for the first 5 days, I have been in quarantine for months, If I go back to Cayman I want to scuba dive. If my test is negative I should be able to move around. Also no one answered what several people have questioned. Are the monitors waterproof

  5. Dear Minister Kirkconnell,
    I have a daughter who is living and teaching literacy on your island. My daughter is a dual citizen of the US and Canada. I am her US mother. Not all US citizens are ignorant of the ramifications of the COVID 19 virus. I am willing to pay all expenses and to test according to your guidelines. I am also willing to protect my daughter and all Caymanians. I would be willing to participate in a trial test. It should not matter what country you’re from if you follow the outlined protocols.
    Best,
    Kelly Singles

  6. This bio button is going to do what? How will it alert anyone that someone has an elevated temperature? And what about the large number of asymptomatic people but who could still infect others?
    I realize that the tourism industry has suffered greatly. But with this virus burning through the USA, and especially Florida, we could so easily undo everything we have done to get down to ZERO active cases.

  7. To Mr. Geoff Bartlett, the Canadian: I beg to differ with you sir. How dare you say to “block all Americans”!!! Many of us have owned properties for over 20-40 years among our friends. We, too, are quite able to take a COVID-19 test to prove we are not ill before entering Grand Cayman and we can fly in on private jets. In fact several of us were stranded and did not leave the island until May 15 by private jet as it was far too risky to my health and a neighbor. As a matter of fact, I have basically been self isolating since March on island and here in Wisconsin. We Americans are not all “crazy” like the politicians running our nation.

  8. To Virgina Baer:

    See here lies my issue, when you call someone out, please quote them directly, do not paraphrase! What I said was “block almost ALL US travelers”

    I to can fly on a private plane if I want to, however that’s not my point.

    My point is, yes I do believe a high percentage of American act responsibly in contributing to the containment and starvation of the virus.

    I also believe if you can test negatively, abide by the rules of Gov.Ky, and are given clearance via the TravelTime protocol process, you to can travel to the Island.

    But… it seems that like Bahamas and other Caribbean Countries, US travelers have been denied access from outside Country travel. If Cayman resorts to a exclusion list, there is a good chance US travelers will be on it.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandrasternlicht/2020/07/20/these-33-countries-have-banned-us-travelers/#6eb7c3a47ea9

    To summarize, do not attack people in a personal manner, Do not go geo-political. I did not attack you personally, nor did I go political. I expressed an opinion, an opinion based on the merits of the article and the facts easily deduced from reading.

    I do wish you safe keeping during this COVID period!

  9. Again, to wear a bio-device is more of a control device. And as far as I know, being from the US we’re told not take a test unless we have symptoms, I will double check. Also, what’s next? No entry unless vaccinated? Not all choose vaccination and how will you address that? I want nothing more but for the Islands to protect its people. Sadly, this may take years under these current restrictions before a return of visitors.