News from abroad has offered us a glimpse of the damage wrought to societies around the world. We may not truly appreciate the full degree to which Cayman has escaped the worst of this year’s alternate reality until it is all over. Even then, the degree to which it will ever be completely over remains to be seen.

Life has not been 100% normal in Cayman, but as things stand on our shores as 2020 ends, we are able to avoid the mask wearing and constant sanitising rituals being practised the world over. We are also able to visit restaurants, hold concerts, attend church and, perhaps best of all, we have been able to gather together to celebrate this much-needed holiday break with our families.

To most, this oasis of normal in a time when the world has been shaken to its core may be worth any price we are able to pay. Perhaps so, but I would also ask you to consider for a moment on whom the burden of this cost weighs heaviest. Many employment sectors here in Cayman, including our financial industry, civil service and real estate, have surely been disrupted to a certain degree during lockdown. However, the glancing blows these industries have had do not compare to the full-on broadside the pandemic has wreaked on our tourism sector.

Companies in water sports, transportation and tour operators, attractions, accommodations and more have seen businesses capsize, and many of these are not coming back. Many restaurants and bars have gone out of business, many more are hanging on by a thread. Out of those still operating many are losing money to keep staff employed while hoping for some positive news on the horizon.

Perhaps only in the hotel industry will you find a handful of international companies with the resources to bridge this long gap in operations, though the challenge for them in doing so has surely been immense. In most all other tourism industries, the owners are typically the operators, and most are small and family run.

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These businesses have been asked to follow all protocols as required, invest in new procedures and equipment, employ staff as long as possible, limit operations or stay closed entirely in some cases, and in all cases to follow our overall plan to keep borders closed. To protect our lifestyle and safeguard the health and lives of all of those in Cayman they have done so, many at great personal cost. Accounts of lost jobs, savings, pensions, and entire businesses, and forced sales are among the economic and emotional hardships that have occurred last year.

To add to the list of tragedies that 2020 has delivered, another may be that when tourism does reopen, it will not be the small independent operators who do so. It will likely be the wealthiest, both locally and abroad, who still have capital left in their pockets to fund the new businesses that will be needed to service the tourism industry upon its return.

The new flavour of the tourism economy will be decidedly more corporate, and local employment, and opportunities for local entrepreneurs, will suffer. This increasingly likely development would be a massive blow to the character and diversity that is Cayman, both for visitors and Caymanians alike.

So, the next time you take a moment to appreciate our oasis of normal, take a moment to thank the families, employees and owners of our tourism industries who continue to do their best to survive. Better yet, if you have the ability to do so, choose to support one by enjoying a local tour or taking a taxi, learning how to scuba dive, visiting an attraction, enjoying a staycation, supporting a local musician, or buying a locally made product versus an imported one, or otherwise supporting any local company doing their best to make it through to the other end of this difficult time.

These industries are an important part of what makes Cayman unique. We should not take for granted the possibility that many of them can disappear completely, nor the impact that this would have on all of us. In fact, without looking too hard, we can see this already starting to happen, and without our collective efforts it will surely continue. Support local. For more families than you realise, it may be their only hope left.

James Walker

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  1. In response to the article by James Whittaker “Tourism industry needs local support”, My husband and I have been visiting Cayman a couple of times a year for the past 45 years and what drew us back continually was the Cayman people and their businesses (restaurants, shops, dive operators). We have traveled the world and we always feel a special connection with Cayman and it’s people. I was saddened to see Calico Jacks closed (even though I don’t drink and am not a partier) because we would stop by for a bite or something cold to drink. We always try to support local and hope that Cayman keeps its unique flavor and traditions. Bless you all and hang in there!!! Hope to see you soon.