For the past 21 years, Turtle Nest Inn in Bodden Town has served as an award-winning bed and breakfast that caters to tourists. But with Cayman’s borders now closed to international travel, the inn’s owners have had to make some tough and innovative decisions.
“We’ve closed the inn, until [the country] has reopened to tourism,” said Marleine Gagnon, a part-owner of the inn. “We rented long term, so we have residents now living in the inn.
“It is not enough but it contributes, and all the tenants know that when the island reopens, they will have to move, and they understand that.”
Gagnon said since the inn opened in 1999, this is the second time it has had to revert to long-term rentals.
The inn is one of several businesses that have had to make some drastic changes. Further east, in Breakers, the Lighthouse Restaurant which has been a beacon of fine dining over the years, is now offering roadside barbeques.
“The local people love it – the barbeque, the chicken, the ribs, fish fry and everything – and so we decided to give it a try,” said the restaurant’s owner, Giuseppe Gatta. “I wish we had done it 10 years ago.”
But not all eastern district businesses have the option of reinventing themselves. At least one business, the Czech Inn Grill in Bodden Town, is currently relying on donations to supplement sales.
“We started a GoFundMe and some people have helped us a little bit already,” said Juri Zitterbart, who owns the Czech Inn.
Zitterbart said the restaurant’s expenses are piling up.
“We’re not the only business that will have to do GoFundMe,” he said. “Small businesses simply can’t be paying out so much money and not taking in anything. These days, you make hundreds, but the bills are in the thousands.”
With the domestic economy slowly reopening, there has been a renewed push for people to shop local. One notable success has been the summer staycation promotions at the Morritt’s Resort in East End.
“We are open for staycations now, and we find a very robust business,” said Bill Powers, the resort’s general manager. “We are full almost every weekend and going forward to the end of the summer.”
“I suspect we are going to have a very good summer; obviously, not like a normal summer,” he added.
However, Zitterbart fears residents don’t have enough disposable income to continue keeping local businesses afloat.
“People cannot help you if they cannot help themselves,” he said. “Let’s say, normally, your pay cheque is $5,000 and now its $2,000, it would be better if you went to the grocery store or the liquor store, because it would be cheaper [than going to a restaurant].”
The government is offering a stimulus package to micro and small businesses, which comprises loans between $20,000 and $50,000 through the Cayman Development Bank. But business owners like Gatta believes more can be done to help reduce operational costs.
“We have 12 Caymanians that are still with us and we are still providing for them, but we still have seven expatriates that cannot leave the island because of where they are from, but we still have to pay permits and so on,” said Gatta. “We cannot put them in the middle of the street; they can’t go anywhere.”
Cayman’s borders closed mid-March, which was still high tourism season. The government now has assembled a committee made up of several agencies that has been tasked with helping the economy recover and finding the safest and most effective ways of reopening the borders.
Gagnon welcomed the news, but said if it isn’t done soon, Cayman could risk losing another high season.
“It’s OK to last during low season, the fall season, which is not busy anyway,” said Gagnon. “But if we don’t reopen for the high season, that’s going to be terrible – not just for us, but for all the tourism industry.”
Gagnon said one option that could help kick-start the tourism industry would be to allow people to quarantine in Cayman.
“We have some guests writing and saying, as soon as we open, they are coming to quarantine in Cayman and they want to self-isolate at the Turtle Nest Inn,” she said.
She said she hopes the government can find a safe way to enable the islands to reopen to international travel, while businesses are still able to stay afloat.