Cayman’s Chamber of Commerce has thrown its support behind government’s decision to delay reopening local borders to October.
However, Chamber chief executive officer Wil Pineau, in an emailed response to queries from the Cayman Compass, said he believes finding a safe reopening date would be challenging.
“It is difficult to set a firm reopening date given the current circumstances and uncertainty. Government could consider a phased reopening based on the situation in source markets at that point in time. For example, below a certain number of new cases per day in the source market,” he said.
On Friday, the Cayman Islands government announced that Cabinet had decided to extend the border closures to 1 Oct., citing the continuing spread of COVID-19 overseas, particularly in the US.
“The Chamber supports the decision and quite frankly expected it due to the ongoing uncontrolled spread of the virus in the United States and the challenges being experienced by other Caribbean destinations that have reopened,” Pineau told the Compass.
He said whatever decision regarding the reopening that government takes in future, the tourism sector must be informed and given enough time to plan and to prepare for the reopening.
“It takes time to hire and train staff and test the safety protocols. Airlines must be given enough notice as well to activate reservation systems and to inform returning and new visitors of the requirements to book their flights, accommodations, car rentals, etc. Accordingly, once a date is set, government should be committed to it,” he added.
Government had initially set 1 Sept. as Cayman’s reopening date and had outlined a phased plan last month.
The plan, which was revealed by Premier Alden McLaughlin and Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell, included requiring travellers who have tested negative for COVID-19 three days prior to arriving on island to wear a BioButton health-monitoring device and self-isolate at a residence of their choice for five days. However, if they choose not to wear the device, travellers must quarantine at a government-managed facility for 14 days.
When Cayman’s borders closed in March, it shut down the islands’ tourism industry.
However, businesses are slowly rebuilding and the thrust towards staycations and buying local is helping in that process.
Pineau said he does not believe the 30-day extension of the closures will impact the restart of the tourism industry in “a significant way”.
“September is the slowest month for air arrivals, comprising 3-5% of total visitation from a stayover perspective, and is consistently the lowest month for air arrivals,” he said, adding that many restaurants and properties usually take this opportunity to reduce hours and/or upgrade their facilities to prepare for the busy winter season.
“Local schools reopen in September as well, so it is a good time to test safety protocols all around so the industry will be ready to accept visitors when the borders are reopened,” he suggested.
While Pineau remains hopeful, he said all businesses operating in the tourism and ancillary sectors have reported an adverse impact in some way.
He said rebuilding will happen, but it will not be quick.
“It can be compared to being struck by a category 5 invisible financial hurricane that has swept profits, businesses, jobs and livelihoods away without any physical signs of destruction. It is going to take the industry and the Cayman Islands many years to recover,” he said.