The Ritz-Carlton resort is not expecting to run at close to full capacity until November 2021 at the earliest, according to general manager Marc Langevin.
The Dart group, which owns the five-star hotel and the Kimpton Seafire Resort, announced last week that it was scaling back operations at both properties.
The decision means hundreds of employees – mostly expatriates who were on temporary leaves of absence – are expected to be let go.
It could also mean dozens of employees are impacted locally, including Caymanians.
The effect of that decision is that The Ritz-Carlton will no longer be primed to ‘ramp up’ quickly if tourists return.
Langevin said the hotel was now effectively in a holding pattern – trying to create enough business to keep a core staff employed for the next year – with a view to coming back at full capacity next winter.
With the hotel running at around 15% occupancy on weekends and almost empty during the week, he said it was difficult.
“We are busy for two days and then empty for five,” he said.
Up to now, Caymanian employees have been largely insulated from the worst impact, with overseas workers the first to be let go.
Langevin said the hotel was looking at options for reduced hours or job-sharing to help maintain its staff, but acknowledged this may not provide enough income for workers to get by in Cayman.
After six months without tourists, he said he understood that Dart could not continue to fund the hotel’s payroll indefinitely.
“We have been very active in trying to find solutions to bring back some tourism in a secure way,” he said. “We have talked about biobuttons, bubble resorts, other protocols, but we have not made any progress. It is clear that we are not reopening for tourism any time soon.”
Langevin said he accepted there was unlikely to be any resort tourism this season, adding that government had not taken the ‘necessary steps’ to make that happen. He said the likelihood of missing Christmas and any meaningful business in the first quarter of 2021 meant that it did not make sense to keep staff on call, ready to come back to work.
But he said the implications of releasing workers from their contracts meant that the hotel would have to go through a six-month recruitment-and-training phase before being able once again to handle full capacity.
He is not expecting that to happen until November 2021 and renovations have been pushed forward in expectation that the resort will have low occupancy throughout the bulk of next year.
“Right now, we have to find a business model that can support a core group of staff through to next November,” he added. “We hope by then we will be back in business. The thing that gives me hope in the long term is that tourists want to come back.”
He said shutting down the resort completely would have been the safest path financially, but Dart had agreed to support options to help keep a core team employed.
Short-term, he said staycations and restaurant business would only go so far. Even to keep a reduced group of employees in work, he believes, long-stay tourists will be required.
He said there were wealthy individuals who wanted to spend the winter in Cayman, sheltering from the impact of COVID elsewhere, and he hopes plans can be put in place to allow the resort and villas on the island to tap into that market.
Langevin said he is concerned more generally about a lack of movement on taking steps towards reopening tourism.
He believes the risk from COVID-19 can be managed and mitigated with testing, tracking and tracing policies and he says he is concerned about the impact on the island’s economy if Cayman does not start to open up soon.
There are thousands of jobs that rely on tourism both directly and indirectly that are in jeopardy, he added.
“Right now, about 70% of the population can continue life as normal, but the other 30% is either out of work or at great risk,” Langevin said.