Two Caymanian hoteliers are continuing talks with government over a pilot project for ‘resort bubbles’ that would allow some tourism to resume on the islands.
Michael Tibbetts, of Clearly Cayman, which has dive resorts on all three islands, and Kel Thompson, of East End’s Wyndham Reef Resort, are taking the lead on the concept. It is not considered a viable project for several operators, including The Ritz-Carlton, however, because of the mix of residents and tourists in those resorts.
Tibbetts said the hotels have nailed down a clear set of protocols and are hopeful that government will approve a pilot project.
“The idea is still very much alive,” he said. “We are talking about a comprehensive protocol, with two rounds of PCR testing of guests, geofencing and the protection and testing of employees.”
The bubble-resort concept involves tourists staying within designated boundaries in an all-inclusive-type environment. Tibbetts said Clearly Cayman’s resorts, which have a restaurant and diving on site, lend themselves to that format.
The key concern around the concept has been about staff interacting with guests and potentially bringing COVID-19 back into the community. Tibbetts, who is also a Harvard-educated medical doctor, said strict protocols, including masks and social distancing alongside regular testing of both staff and visitors, could effectively mitigate that risk.
He highlighted the NBA bubble in Orlando – where staff come and go on a daily basis from an enclosed resort-style arena where the US’ top basketball teams are living and competing – as an example of where that had been achieved on a much larger scale.
“Ourselves and the Wyndham are really at the forefront of pushing this discussion forward for the benefit of the islands.
“There is no expectation that we will be profitable from this. We want to start to create a pathway that can get people back to work.”
Clearly Cayman employs 150 people and has around 85% of those on furlough right now.
Tibbetts said he believes the resort bubble offers the best solution to get some business back and keep people employed in the short term at minimal risk.
He said islands like St Lucia and Bermuda had demonstrated that tourism could resume with low risk, though he emphasised the bubble proposal was much stricter than any of the measures in either of those countries. He acknowledged there would not be zero risk, but said Cayman’s testing and tracking technology and the protocols proposed would keep that to a minimum.
“Even now there are positive cases in the islands and the risk of transmission to the community is not zero,” Tibbetts added. “By screening visitors with PCR testing before departure and then again on arrival we will dramatically lower the risk of someone arriving in the islands with COVID-19.”
The bubble resort concept is not viable for The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, which had initially pushed the idea, because of the resort’s mix of residences and hotel rooms.
General manager Marc Langevin said the mingling of the two types of guests would potentially compromise the bubble, making it much more complex to achieve.
He said he was still supporting the idea for other resorts as an intermediary step towards a fuller return of tourism.
“I believe it is a viable solution. It is not applicable for everyone,” Langevin said. “The complexity for us is that we have stayover tourists and long-stay residents in the same building and that was creating a difficult situation.”