Discussions around introducing ‘resort bubbles’ as an avenue to boost Cayman’s tourism is “proving difficult”, Premier Alden McLaughlin has said.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible,” he hastened to add Friday as he addressed questions on the proposed initiative as Cayman moves closer to its soft border reopening on 1 Oct.
Hoteliers presented the resort bubble concept as a viable solution to enable visitors to vacation safely at their resorts in an all-inclusive-type environment, without mingling with the wider community.
Representatives of The Ritz-Carlton, the Westin and Clearly Cayman, which has resorts on all three islands, met with government Friday to discuss moving the initiative forward.
McLaughlin, in response to the Cayman Compass on those talks at the COVID-19 press briefing, said, “Even hoteliers themselves are finding it very, very difficult as to how a resort bubble would actually work safely. So, we are struggling.”
The premier said nowhere in the world has successfully introduced the resort bubble concept, even places that have all-inclusive resorts.
He said keeping the visitors within the ‘bubble’ or confines of their resort is simple enough, but the challenge is the risk of exposure of workers in those places interacting with the wider public.
“You always have to deal with the issue of the staff who have to come to work and go home, shop at Foster’s, buy some gas by Jose’s, and go home to their families… go back out to hang out at Country and Western. You know, what I’m saying is people living their normal lives. The guests are there in the bubble, but it’s the back and forth,” he contended.
He said, essentially, it requires a significant level of personal protective equipment and protocols and resort employees effectively would have to be treated as medical workers who treat patients.
Despite the challenges, work on the initiative is continuing, he said.
The premier acknowledged that Cayman cannot continue to maintain the status quo, as he said hotels are continuing to pay staff and “incur significant operational costs”.
Cayman’s borders have been closed since March, and only repatriation flights operated by Cayman Airways and British Airways have been allowed. This week, a British Airways flight landed, the first of scheduled fortnightly flights from the UK. Twenty-nine passengers from that flight were selected for home-isolation. Those passengers will trial the iMSafe electronic monitoring and geo-fencing tech.
The premier said government is in “pretty good shape” for another year, but staying closed off to tourists is hurting many.
“We are facing the possibility of another mass exodus of people from here if the hotels shut down, as well as continued massive loss of revenue of the hotels here. At some point, we’re going to have to make some really hard decisions,” McLaughlin said, adding that people have to work.
“Many people are earning much less than they previously would. There’ll be much less spend in the broader economy,” he said.
“We have to continue to work to find ways to bring people back here to spend money in the economy,” he said.
Questioned on what benefit Caymanians will derive from the resort-bubble initiative, Finance Minister Roy McTaggart reminded that government receives a 13% accommodation tax from every tourist who stays in hotel accommodation.
Health Minister Dwayne Seymour added that, in terms of employment benefit, 500 out-of-work Caymanians also recently signed up through government’s job fair to be trained to work at local hotels.